Clash of the Titans or the Loons?

by Dan Quinn

Now this could be fun to watch.

On Wednesday former State Board of Education member Terri Leo, a Republican from Spring northwest of Houston, announced that she’s running for the Texas House of Representatives. She’s seeking the seat of incumbent state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, who is seeking re-election.

Both Leo and Riddle orbit on the outer fringes of the political right. Will these two spend the next six months trying to out-crazy each other? Pass the popcorn!

For a decade, until she left at the end of 2012, Leo was part of the state board’s faction of hard-right social conservatives. The former Concerned Women for America activist repeatedly tried, for example, to force publishers to include creationist arguments against evolution in their public school science textbooks. Speaking in 2009 on a radio program hosted by phony historian and religious-right propagandist David Barton, Leo explained her opposition on evolution:

“They [scientists] don’t want to talk about the science because they lose that argument continually. The science is overwhelmingly against evolution.”

The following year, Leo’s sloppy Internet “research” led the board to vote to remove the author of the popular children’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? from the state’s curriculum standards. She claimed the author, Bill Martin, was a Marxist. An embarrassed board was forced to reverse its vote a few months later, after observers pointed out that Leo had mistaken the author for an academic with the same name who had written a book about Marxism. Editorial writers in the state’s newspapers had a field day, with one accusing the board of displaying “malignant stupidity.”

On another occasion during the 2010 curriculum debate, Leo insisted that the state’s new social studies standards not use “capitalism” to describe the free enterprise system. She complained that “liberal academics” liked the term, absurdly arguing:

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation. You know, ‘capitalist pig!’”

She also opposed sex education in a state with one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation. In 2004, for example, Leo ignored a successfully fought efforts  to add basic information on contraception to the state’s health textbooks. She insisted that the new textbooks should teach abstinence as the only way to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. She also demanded (unsuccessfully) that the textbooks portray gay people as “more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use and suicide.”

Leo also dabbled in anti-Muslim hysteria, supporting in 2010 for a divisive and inaccurate state board resolution alleging that history textbooks are pro-Muslim and anti-Christian.

Riddle clearly holds her own when it comes to who says the kookiest things. Shortly after taking her seat in the Texas House for the first time in 2003, for example, Riddle launched this bizarre attack on public education:

“Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it’s cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It’s not a tender heart. It’s ripping the heart out of this country.”

She is so reflexively anti-government that last year she praised Nevada’s renegade rancher Cliven Bundy as a “brave patriot” and attacked federal law enforcement officials as “jack booted thugs.” Bundy’s persistent refusal to stop grazing his cattle on federal land for free — essentially stealing from taxpayers — had led to a standoff between his fringe (and armed) anti-government supporters and federal agents. Bundy also revealed some bizarre racial ideas when he insisted that “negroes” were better off as “slaves, picking cotton.”

Riddle has also suggested that supporters of women’s access to abortion care are worse than the Nazis. And she has offered an incredibly offensive take on why minorities oppose her efforts to crack down on immigration:

“(W)hen you have people that are used to entitlements, then they like the entitlements and they want the entitlements to keep coming.”

It says something that two candidates who are so extreme will be facing each other in the GOP primary for that Houston-area House seat. The question is how tea party and religious-right activists will choose which fanatic to support.

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