It seems that at least one member of the Texas State Board of Education likes to attack colleagues behind their back rather than address them face-to-face. And that same board member appears willing to break the law to hide such deceitful tactics.
We told you last month that Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, sent his state board colleagues a private memo chastising them for spending so much time pushing a politically motivated resolution that criticizes the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History course. Nearly 50,000 Texas high school students took the highly regarded course and its exam in 2013 to earn college credit. But board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, has criticized the course for supposedly undermining patriotism and promoting America-bashing.
Right-wing bloggers have echoed and spread Mercer’s baseless and silly claims, and the manufactured controversy has spread to other states as well. One Colorado State Board of Education member has even criticized the course for not teaching students that the United States ended slavery “voluntarily.” Of course, the reason students don’t learn that is because it’s not true. But truth hardly slows down politicians trying to score cheap points with their gullible base.
Anyway, you can read Ratliff’s memo to his colleagues here. Very soon after he sent it, however, one of his board colleagues leaked it to a right-wing fanatic — Donna “Jeffrey Dahmer Believed in Evolution” Garner — with an email list. Garner then blasted out a nasty email attacking Ratliff and calling for his impeachment.
Wondering which state board member would have done such a deceitful thing to a colleague, we formally requested under the Texas Public Information Act any communications about the memo between state board members and individuals off the board. We also requested related communications among board members.
Well, the leaker didn’t fess up and turn over the relevant communications with Garner. That’s no surprise, but it also seems rather cowardly. And it indicates the leaker is willing to break the law to hide that cowardice. Public officials and employees are required to turn over written communications or other documents responsive to a valid Public Information Act request. (The leaker could have asked the state’s attorney general opinion about whether the requested documents must be turned over, but that didn’t happen. Of course, it’s very unlikely that the attorney general would have ruled in the leaker’s favor on this point anyway.)
We did, however, get some interesting communications among board members. Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, told Ratliff she was disappointed by his memo:
“Way to throw half of the board under the bus.”
That seems an odd charge to make considering that Ratliff wasn’t the person who leaked his private memo. If anyone threw board colleagues under the bus, it was the leaker. We wonder if Bahorich knows who leaker is and delivered the same criticism to him or her.
When Ratliff noted his disappointment about the leak in a follow-up email to his colleagues, board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, replied in an angry tone:
“Your letter and now this message are in direct contrast to what I (and you too) have worked so hard on for the last 3 1/2 years and that’s to being [sic] the board back together to work in a professional, respectful way. This did the board no favors and you no favor. I’m not saying it should have been made public but any correspondence sent to the entire board has the potential to be forwarded.”
Ratliff shot back, rightly noting that he wasn’t the one who acted unprofessionally and deceitfully by leaking his memo. He also pointed out that Cargill had “fanned the flames” during the debate over AP U.S. History by resisting “several efforts at tamping down the rhetoric.” He expressed his weariness with “saber rattling” from board members who push non-binding resolutions in an effort just to score political points:
“I simply thought it was time to point out the obvious. There is nobody to blame but ourselves when the legislature and the public loses confidence in us.”
Ratliff is speaking the truth here, as hard as it might be for Cargill and her other right-wing colleagues to hear. They have made the state board (and Texas) look foolish with a seemingly never-ending series of unnecessary “culture war” battles over the years. The current battle over the adoption of social studies textbooks is a perfect example. (Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution? The roots of democracy are found in the Old Testament? That’s what Texas students will be learning if the state board votes on Friday to adopt these new textbooks. Why? Because that’s what the ridiculous curriculum standards championed by the state board’s right-wing bloc require students to learn.)
In any case, if Cargill wants board members to work together in a professional way, she should call on the member who leaked Ratliff’s memo to step forward and defend his or her actions publicly. Perhaps more importantly, she should insist that all board members obey the law, including the Texas Public Information Act.