Far-right members of the Texas State Board of Education are steamed that Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, defeated their ally Don McLeroy, R-College Station, in the March Republican primary last year. Since at least last November, they have been insisting that Ratliff’s status as a registered lobbyist makes him ineligible to serve on the board under state law. Things got particularly nasty at the January board meeting, with far-right members like Terri Leo, R-Spring, openly criticizing Ratliff’s presence on the board as a violation of the law. Far-right pressure groups joined in, with one asking the state’s attorney general to investigate.
Ratliff replied by requesting that board chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, ask for a formal opinion on the matter from state Attorney General Greg Abbott. He also asked the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to look into the matter. Abbott has yet to issue his opinion, but the Travis County DA’s office just did.
In a letter released today, Susan H. Oswalt of the Public Integrity Unit explains that her office has reviewed the relevant statute, examined all of the available evidence and discussed the matter with the chairs of the House and Senate education committees. She also points out that Ratliff has disclosed his clients, amended his contracts to make clear that he will not represent them before the state board and has recused himself from voting on measures that might give even the appearance of a conflict of interest for him. In her letter, Oswalt writes that she found nothing wrong:
“Based upon all the above facts, we have determined that it does not appear that any crime has been committed over which our office would have jurisdiction and venue. We are formally closing our review of this matter with no further action to be taken by this office.”
Oswalt also notes that Ratliff isn’t the first lobbyist to serve on the board anyway. But the state board’s far-right members will almost certainly continue to complain about Ratliff’s presence on the board — at least until Abbott issues his formal opinion. In fact, considering their past contempt for opinions from the AG’s office, we expect they’ll keep complaining regardless. For them, the State Board of Education is all about playing politics, not educating Texas kids.