Does Ken Mercer Support the Smear Campaign Against a Fellow Texas Education Board Member?

Does Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, a San Antonio Republican, think one of his fellow Republicans on the board “has no integrity”? Does he think his fellow Republican has “disdain for the law,” is ineligible to serve on the board, and is using his position to enrich his business clients? If he doesn’t believe those things, then he should repudiate — immediately and publicly — one of his supporters who has been leveling those charges.

Donna “Jeffery Dahmer Believed in Evolution” Garner, a right-wing gadfly from the Waco area, has been making those charges in emails supporting Mercer’s bid to be vice chair of the state board. Board members will elect a vice chair and a secretary at the first meeting of their new term on January 30. Garner’s emails urge right-wing activists to contact their board members to elect Mercer over Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who defeated arch-creationist Don McLeroy of College Station in the GOP primary in 2010.

The vice chair, secretary and chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, make up the state board’s executive committee. Those three officers will assign board members to the board’s standing committees: Instruction (dealing with curriculum matters), Finance/Permanent School Fund, and School Initiatives (which deals with charter schools). Garner seems to think that the vote for vice chair could be critical in helping the board’s far-right faction control the board’s business over the next two years. From a Garner email (“IF YOU CARE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF TEX. PUBLIC SCHOOL CHILDREN – ACTION NOW”) on Sunday:

“If Thomas Ratliff, who has demonstrated that he has no integrity and is on the Board illegally, is chosen as the Vice Chair and one more left leaner is chosen as the Secretary, then all will be lost.”

Garner argues that Ratliff’s day job — he lobbies at the Texas Legislature — makes him ineligible to serve on the state board:

“On 8.12.11, the Texas Attorney General’s Office ruled that Thomas Ratliff’s presence on the SBOE is not legal because of his being a registered lobbyist.”

That’s a lie. In 2011, Gail Lowe – then serving as board chair – asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (at Ratliff’s request) for a formal opinion on whether Ratliff was eligible to serve on the board. Abbott’s formal opinion in August of that year affirmed that “a registered lobbyist who has been paid to lobby the legislative or executive branch on a matter relating to Board business is ineligible to serve on the Board.” Ratliff has explained numerous times that he does not lobby for clients on matters related to the state board. And in his formal opinion, Abbott wrote that whether a specific board member was ineligible under the law “is a fact question that is inappropriate to an attorney general opinion.” So Abbott most certainly did not say Ratliff’s presence on the SBOE is illegal.

Moreover, the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, which has the authority to investigate and — if necessary — prosecute state officials, does address fact questions. And in March 2011, that office cleared Ratliff of the charge that he was serving illegally on the board: “We have determined that it does not appear that any crime has been committed over which our office would have jurisdiction and venue.”

That’s not good enough for Garner. (We all know how extremists deal with inconvenient facts. Look at “birthers,” for example.) She continues to charge that Ratliff is using his position on the board and as a lobbyist to enrich Microsoft and two other unnamed clients of his. She offers no evidence to substantiate the smear.

So we ask again: does Mercer agree with Garner’s smears that Ratliff “has no integrity,” “has disdain for the law,” is “on the board illegally,” and is using his position to enrich his business clients? If he does agree, then he should stop hiding behind Garner’s reckless and offensive emails, say so publicly, and produce the evidence to support the claims. If he doesn’t agree, then Mercer should repudiate Garner and her sleazy support for his bid to become vice chair.

But what is this smear campaign really all about? Power and revenge. The vote for vice chair and secretary will provide an early indication of the board’s ideological balance of power over the next two years. After last year’s elections, the new board will have 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats. But the real division for years now has been ideological, not partisan. Mercer is part of the board’s far-right faction, a group of creationists (all Republicans) who reject evolution and separation of church and state and have worked to politicize curriculum standards in science, social studies and other subjects. Ratliff has emerged as a leader of the board’s traditional conservatives and moderates (from both parties). Right-wingers detest Ratliff (a small-government, pro-local control Republican) because he defeated McLeroy in 2010.

We think it’s also fair to say that the hostility of the board’s far-right members toward Ratliff has been apparent in the board’s public meetings over the past two years. Some of them have made Ratliff’s eligibility to serve on the board an issue at previous meetings. One even suggested that the board might seek legal counsel to pursue a case against Ratliff, whom voters have elected to his seat twice now. All of that and the current smear campaign simply confirm our belief that the board’s right-wingers and their allies have little but contempt for voters who don’t share their extremist politics.

3 thoughts on “Does Ken Mercer Support the Smear Campaign Against a Fellow Texas Education Board Member?

  1. I am familiar with Mr. Ratliff and do not care what his politics are. He is an intelligent, well-educated, sane, sensible, and balanced human being with a streak of high integrity that spans the width of the Milky Way galaxy.

    Speaking as a fellow Christian who believes in Jesus, I support Mr. Ratliff and hereby encourage him to find his inner core and stand his ground.

  2. By the way, I was struck by this quote from Donna Garner:

    “If Thomas Ratliff, who has demonstrated that he has no integrity and is on the Board illegally, is chosen as the Vice Chair and one more left leaner is chosen as the Secretary, then all will be lost.”

    The phrase “all will be lost” is Christian fundamentalist code language that means the “ultimate and final defeat of Christian fundamentalism.”

    I have heard it a number of times over the years, most often in this particular context:

    Question: “What if it turns out that evolution really is true?”

    Fundie Answer: “Then all is lost.”

    This means that evolution is viewed as being so dangerous that it has the power to drive the final wooden stake into the heart of the Christian fundamentalist vampire—killing it once and for all.

    In the context of the lead article, it means the the far right faction on the Texas SBOE views Tom Ratliff as being so utterly and completely dangerous to their plans that he is quite literally the Van Helsing figure who has somehow made it onto the same board as the vampires—and might mug them with a wooden stake and hammer during a lunch break. This is not surprising at all because Christian fundamentalists have traditionally viewed intelligent, well-informed, sensible, and balanced Christians who understand evolution, the big bang, global warming, real American history, and so forth as far more dangerous to their cause than agnostics, atheists, or beer bubbas who kinda believe but never attend church. Look on any website about creation vs. evolution. The real venom is reserved for the theistic evolutionists. And why is that? They understand both the factual truth of science and the real Jesus Christ of the New Testament—and they are (like me) willing to stand squarely in Babs Cargill’s face publicly and say, “Your understanding of both science and the Bible are DEAD WRONG.” They fear that millions in Texas will see Jesus standing beside Mr. Ratliff as he boldly supports scientific and Christian truth. All I can say is this:

    Stand fast for Jesus Christ. Stand fast for the factual truth of evolution, global warming, the big bang, and real American history. ALL TRUTH IS GOD’S TRUTH

  3. I just ran across this site while searching for SBOE information and I was struck by Charles’ posting regarding evolution. He states that he is a believer in Jesus so I would have to assume that he accepts that Jesus is the miraculously conceived son of a virgin. If he can believe that God was capable of bringing forth His son in this manner, why is it inconceivable that an infinite God did not create the earth according to Genesis. I also believe in the Big Bang theory – God spoke it and ‘Bang’ it happened.
    As for Mr. Ratliff, I believe that his employment with Microsoft, his position as a lobbyist, his support of C-Scope (a largely computer aided curriculum) and his position on the SBOE is definitely a conflict of interest. Anyone in a position such as Mr. Ratliff’s should avoid even the appearance of impropriety.