State Board of Education's Cultural Warriors in Trouble

Buzz kill: Oh, no, no, no. This can't be correct. Could it really be that the young Earthers, the intelligent designers and assorted Christian right-wing whackjobs who have made the Texas State Board of Education such a reliable source of amusement could be facing...extinction?

Speaking as someone who neither has nor likes children, Buzz urges the state's GOP voters: Please don't get all moderate on us. Please, please support your local crazies on the SBOE. What's more important here, people: quality, modern education for 5 million Texas school children or the entertainment value of watching elected officials debate whether the planet is older than a box of Twinkies on the back shelf of a convenience store?

OK, some of you responsible grownups may not see it our way. Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network in Austin, which has been keeping tabs on the state board's religious right element for years, sounds downright pleased that, between resignations by hard-liners and challenges from moderates, this March's GOP primary will provide voters a good shot at slicing into the power held by the board's religo-conservatives.

Two of the hard-line gang of seven Old Testament conservatives on the 15-member panel—Ken Mercer of San Antonio and Don McLeroy of Bryan—face stiff opposition in their primaries. Tim Tuggey, a lawyer from Austin, is facing Mercer in District 5; legislative consultant Thomas Ratliff from Mount Pleasant will square off against McLeroy in District 9. Locally, moderately conservative incumbent Geraldine "Tincy" Miller faces a challenge from educator George M. Clayton, whom no one seems to know much about. (We played phone tag with him.)

Does this spell a drive toward the middle on the once-little-known board that has become a battleground over über-conservative issues like teaching creationism in Texas classrooms? Yes, says Quinn, who calls this election a watershed moment.

"If you listen to what they say, they certainly sound a lot more moderate," Quinn says of Tuggey and Ratliff. "I think they're conservative Republicans, but they're much more moderate in their approach to public education than the extremists on the board are. They don't see public education as a cultural battleground in which every issue becomes a fight between Christians and people who are supposedly left-wing radicals who hate Christians."

Humph. All right, getting rid of extremists would be a good thing, Buzz reckons. Yeah, yeah, refocusing the board on education instead of culture wars would, we guess, be better. Sigh. But it doesn't sound like much fun.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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