With the filing period now closed, it’s clear that the religious right is targeting another traditional Republican for defeat on the Texas State Board of Education. District 15 board incumbent Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, will be challenged in a March GOP primary that could further strengthen the far right’s control of the board.
Craig’s primary opponent is Randy Rives (no Web site yet), who served one term on the Ector County Independent School District Board of Trustees in Odessa. In 2005 and 2006, Rives pushed through approval of a deeply flawed high school Bible course, with the board choosing class materials from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report in 2005 revealed that the National Council’s sloppy curriculum was riddled with factual errors and promoted an almost exclusively fundamentalist Protestant interpretation of the Bible. After local parents sued, school district officials agreed to stop using the curriculum.
Rives also was a key player in having the local school board implement a strict abstinence-only policy on sex education classes in the district. Today Ector County is still struggling to bring down a teen pregnancy rate that is highest in the state and twice the national average.
Craig, a traditional Republican conservative, has been a consensus-seeker on the state board. Sure enough, that has earned him the bitter hostility of far-right extremists who oppose teaching about evolution in science classrooms and have repeatedly attacked curriculum recommendations made by teachers and academic experts (condemned by the far right as “radicals” and “educrats”).
No Democrat filed for the seat. Should Craig lose his bid for re-election to Rives, the state board could move even further to the right.
Let’s walk through the other races.
Democatic incumbent Rene Nuñez of El Paso faces no opposition in his primary race. He will face Republican Carlos “Charlie” Garza, an assistant principal in El Paso, in the November general election. Garza, who faces no GOP primary opponent, declares on his campaign Web site that he “will continue to stand strong for pro-life and pro-family values” and that “marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Democratic incumbent Rick Agosto has already announced that he won’t seek re-election to his seat. Agosto has often voted with the state board’s far-right faction. As a result, his replacement could be an important gain for board moderates. Michael Soto, a Trinity University literature professor in San Antonio, is the only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat. Soto has lined up support from, among others, former state board member Joe Bernal of San Antonio and Charles Butt of HEB.
San Antonio residents Tony Cunningham, who described his occupation on his filing application as “politician,” and Joanie Muenzler, retired, face each other in the Republican primary. We have little information about either candidate at this time. District 3 trends strongly Democratic.
Incumbent Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston faces neither Democratic nor Republican opposition for re-election.
Incumbent Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, faces a tough fight in his Republican primary against Tim Tuggey, an Austin attorney and past chair of San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit agency. Tuggey has the backing of a number of San Antonio heavyweights, including businessmen Red McCombs, Bartell Zachry and David Spencer. Mercer has been a reliable vote for the board’s far-right faction.
Four Democrats have filed for the District 5 seat. Rebecca Bell-Metereau is an English and film professor at Texas State University-San Marcos. Robert Bohmfalk is a mental health case manager from Seguin. Daniel Boone of Canyon Lake is a retired career Air Force officer and a professional psychologist who has taught at the university level. Josiah Ingalls is a machine operator in Austin.
Incumbent Don McLeroy, R-College, faces fellow Republican Thomas Ratliff, a governmental relations consultant from Mount Pleasant and son of the popular former state senator and acting lieutenant governor Bill Ratliff. McLeroy — a staunch creationist — served as board chair for nearly two years until May, when the Texas Senate refused to confirm his renomination to a second term to head the board.
Ratliff has already picked up a number of important endorsements, including support from two powerful Texas House committee chairmen: Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who heads the Appropriations Committee, and Brian McCall, R-Plano, who chairs Calendars. In November he announced the backing of a list of PTA leaders from vote-rich Collin County as well.
No Democrat filed for the District 9 seat, which stretches from north of Dallas to around Bryan/College Station in East Central Texas.
Incumbent Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has announced that she will not seek re-election. Three Republicans will battle for the GOP nomination. Educator Marsha Farney is a prominent Georgetown Republican, but teacher Rebecca Osborne of Austin had been running for the seat even before Dunbar announced that she would step down. Dunbar recruited Brian Russell, an Austin member of the State Republican Executive Committee, as her replacement on the board. As we noted in December (see here and here), Russell shares Dunbar’s hard-right politics. In fact, he has been endorsed by other far-right state board members and leaders of assorted pressure groups.
Education consultant Judy Jennings of Austin is the only Democrat seeking the District 10 seat.