Yesterday Texas Gov. Rick Perry allowed a new redistricting map for the State Board of Education to become law without his signature — and far-right activists are enraged. The Legislature is trying to “destroy the conservatives” on the state board, one right-wing blogger has bizarrely shrieked. Board conservatives are being “targeted for extinction,” right-wing gadfly Donna Garner ranted in one of her numerous mass-distribution emails about the issue over the past month.
Good grief. News flash: Republicans have huge majorities in both the Texas House and Senate. In fact, Republicans have more than 100 votes in the House — a two-thirds majority that allows them to do almost whatever they want. They even passed a draconian budget that could cause tens of thousands of teachers to lose their jobs in school districts across the state. Yet we’re supposed to believe that those same Republicans are trying to “destroy” conservatives on the State Board of Education?
What’s really going on here?
The far right is throwing a temper tantrum. House members and senators weren’t willing to kowtow to the state board’s far-right members, who drew up their own redistricting map and have insisted on treating the board like their own political fiefdom. (And perhaps legislators were simply annoyed by the expectation that they bow down to just about any demand some board members make. Publishers — with millions of dollars in textbook sales at stake — might do that, but legislators tend to be a bit more independent.)
In any case, you can view the new State Board of Education district map here. Under the “Select Plan” menu, choose “PLANE120 – H.B. 600 ENROLLMENT (SENATE CSHB 600).” Other viewing options include the current state board map as well as a redistricting map preferred by the state board’s far-right faction, “PLANE118 – SEN. PATRICK STWD SUB. (S2-F1) PLANE120.”
Right-wingers have a long list of complaints about the new map, PLANE120. Among the loudest is their claim that the map puts newly elected board member Charlie Garza, R-El Paso, at risk in the 2012 elections. (In just two meetings, Garza has clearly aligned himself with the board’s far-right/creationist bloc.) In addition, they’re angry that the new map puts former board member Don McLeroy’s residence in the same district with ally and board incumbent Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. McLeroy lost his 2010 bid for re-election to Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant.
Far-right board members hoped that their own pet map, PLANE118, would protect Garza from a Democratic challenger in 2012. And they wanted to pair McLeroy — who has suggested that he wants to return to the board — with Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, in District 10. The board’s right-wingers are angry with Farney because she refused to obey their commands on various board votes in January and April. Independence isn’t tolerated with that crowd — they expect board members either to bend to their will or suffer their wrath.
Even so, it’s absurd on its face to claim this map is less favorable to Republicans. Even Garza’s new district doesn’t appear to be appreciably less Republican than it was before — the El Paso Republican’s victory over a longtime Democratic incumbent last fall was seen as a major upset. Moreover, about 10 of the board’s 15 districts are likely to continue leaning Republican (in most cases, overwhelmingly so). That’s something of an accomplishment considering the rapid growth of the state’s Hispanic population, which has tended to lean Democratic in state elections. In fact, civil rights groups are concerned that the new map doesn’t sufficiently take into account growth in the state’s Hispanic population.
So what happens now? The Texas Freedom Network will spend the next few months analyzing the new map as we look ahead to 2012, when every state board seat will be up for election. Meanwhile, the state board is likely to continue being a “culture war” battleground. For example, we reported last week that far-right board members have succeeded in putting creationists on teams that will review proposed science instructional materials this summer. In addition, the state’s health curriculum standards — which include standards on sex education — are up for revision in the next couple of years.
And as always, TFN stands ready to work with any member of the SBOE — from either party — who is willing to turn away from the culture wars and focus on developing education policy that gets Texas students ready for college and the jobs of tomorrow.