Challenger Outspending Far-Right Incumbent in Texas SBOE Primary Race

by Dan Quinn

With just a month go before the March 4 primary elections, challenger Rita Ashley is outspending — by far — incumbent David Bradley in the Republican primary race for the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) District 7 seat in Southeast Texas.

Ashley lost to Bradley in the 2012 GOP primary. She is a former schoolteacher and has worked both as the clerk for the Texas House Public Education Committee and as district director for Republican state Sen. Tommy Williams.

Campaign finance reports show that she has loaned her campaign $75,500 since July of last year and has raised more than $10,000 in contributions. That has allowed her campaign to spend nearly $75,000 so far. She reported more than $15,000 in cash on hand in her most recent report. All candidates were required to file finance reports by Monday, Feb. 3, 30 days before the primary.

In contrast, Bradley has spent about $3,000 and reported $1,360.12 in cash on hand. His campaign had $2,400 in outstanding loans, according to his finance report.

A leader of the SBOE’s  far-right faction, Bradley won election to the board in 1996. SBOE Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, has given Bradley’s campaign $300 this year. Bradley also got $1,000 from Peter Morrison of Lumberton. Morrison, who writes a periodic e-newsletter called the Morrison Report, has a history of making incendiary statements on race and religion. In fact, VDARE, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a white nationalist organization, has posted Morrison’s emails on its website.

Morrison complained about “racist” minority groups and “maggots” for re-electing President Obama in November 2012 and called for Texas to secede from the union. He also worries about immigration from “less preferable countries” and complains that those who want this country to “maintain the traditional American demographic status quo” are persecuted.

Following the 2010 elections, Morrison aided unsuccessful efforts to depose Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican. Morrison thought Straus was too politically moderate and noted that other candidates for House Speaker were “Christians and true conservatives.” Straus is Jewish.

Although Ashely is outspending Bradley, the incumbent’s 17 years on the board likely gives him an advantage at least in name recognition among GOP voters. The GOP nominee will face Kathy King and Libertarian Megan DaGata (no website available) in the November general election.

Campaign spending in the two other contested primary races for SBOE seats this year has been considerably lower.

In the District 11 race in North Texas, incumbent Pat Hardy has spent about $4,000 and reported $3,208 in cash on hand. Hardy, an educator who works for the Weatherford Independent School District, won election to the SBOE in 2002. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have endorsed Hardy.

Her challengers, Eric Mahroum  and Lady Theresa Thombs, have tried to align themselves with tea party activists. Mahroum has spent about $4,000 so far but has just $365 in cash on hand. Thombs has spent less than $2,500, but her campaign reported a $14,000 contribution from her husband.

Thombs has made a number of eyebrow-raising statements, including that “we know we didn’t come from monkeys” (when discussing evolution) and her opposition to history lessons written by people from “socialist higher education.” She has also insisted that Christians are under attack from those who think Christians “have no right to seek public office.”

The District 11 GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Bean and Libertarian Craig Sanders (no website available) in November.

The only contested Democratic primary is for the District 13 seat currently held by longtime incumbent Mavis Knight of Dallas. Knight is not seeking election.

Erika Beltran, a former teacher and currently director of the nonprofit Teaching Trust in Dallas, has raised $about $8,500 and spent about $1,200 in that race. She reported about $6,570 in cash on hand in her recent report. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have endorsed Beltran.

Andrea Hilburn (no website available), a manager in the Dallas Independent School District, reported raising a little under $1,300 in the last half of 2013. Her current finance report was not yet available. A. Denise Russell, a teacher and high school administrator, has reported no campaign contributions since last July and has spent less than $1,000.

The Democratic nominee will face Libertarian Junart Sodoy (no website available) in November. No Republican filed for election to the District 13 seat.

Click here for information about all of this year’s SBOE races:


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