Handful of Contests See the Most Money in Texas State Board of Education Races

by Dan Quinn

In the 1990s, San Antonio businessman James Leininger — the religious right’s sugar daddy in Texas — poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into State Board of Education (SBOE) races. That money helped hard-right social conservatives build a multi-year campaign to take control of the board — and turned subsequent board debates over textbooks and curriculum standards into divisive “culture war” battles that put politics ahead of education. But new campaign finance reports — which cover contributions and expenditures for January 1-April 19 — to the Texas Ethics Commission show that far less money is flowing (so far) into most election contests for all 15 SBOE seats this year. Moreover, Leininger hasn’t contributed any money (so far) to candidates in those races.

In the District 12 Republican primary, Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas, is spending a lot of her own money to win back her old state board seat, which she lost to George Clayton, R-Richardson, in 2010. Miller’s spending tops that of all SBOE candidates, by far. She reported nearly $93,000 in campaign expenditures over the first four months of this year. That’s in addition to the $41,000 she spent in the last six months of 2011. She has dipped into her own bank account for nearly all of that money — less than $3,000 has come from outside campaign contributions.

None of her three opponents in the May 29 GOP primary have come close to spending that much. Pam Little of Fairview, has spent about $26,000 this year. Most of that has come from loans she made to her own campaign. Clayton spent just $3,300. Gail Spurlock of Richardson reported less than $1,800 in expenditures. Clayton and Spurlock each raised less than $3,000 during the period. Spurlock’s comments align her most closely with the SBOE’s creationist bloc.

Out in West Texas, the money race in GOP primary for the District 15 seat (currently held by Republican Bob Craig, who is not seeking re-election)  is closer. Attorney Marty Rowley of Amarillo reported more than $48,000 in contributions. His opponent, Amarillo school board president Anette Carlisle, reported about $37,000. Rowley appears aligned with the SBOE’s creationist bloc.

The District 7 Republican contest in Southeast Texas between incumbent David Bradley and challenger Rita Ashley, both of Beaumont, is also fairly close. Bradley reported more than $20,000 in contributions, while Ashley reported about $23,000 in contributions and loaned her campaign $10,500. Bradley is a member of the SBOE’s creationist bloc.

In the District 9 Republican contest, incumbent Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant reported just $5,600 in contributions, but he came into the year with nearly $29,000 in his war chest. His opponent, Randy Stevenson of Tyler, reported $20,400 in contributions to add to the $5,100 he carried into 2012. Ratliff defeated incumbent Don McLeroy in the 2010 GOP primary. Stevenson served as a state board member from 1995 to 1999, when he voted with the SBOE’s creationist bloc.

Donna Bahorich of Houston, who is unopposed in the Republican primary for the District 6 seat currently held by departing board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, has loaned her own campaign $50,000. She reported little spend and even less in contributions for this reporting period. She will face the winner of a three-way Democratic primary. Traci Jensen of Houston appears to be the money leader in that primary, spending more than $9,000 and raising more than $8,000 during the period. Patty Quintana-Nilsson of Houston raised about $1,100, while David Scott of Houston raised $200.

District 3 incumbent Michael Soto of San Antonio has raised more than $27,000 for his Democratic primary contest. The Texas Ethics Commission has filed no finance reports from Soto’s Democratic challenger Marisa Perez and Republican candidate David Williams, both of San Antonio. Williams is unopposed in the GOP primary.

Only a couple of candidates for all the other state board contests have approached $10,000 in contributions so far this year.

A few interesting tidbits:

  • Bradley got $1,000 from Southeast Texas activist Peter Morrison. Morrison, you might recall, helped lead (unsuccessful) efforts by right-wing activists to depose state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as speaker of the Texas House in 2011. One of Morrison’s mass emails at the time noted that House candidates challenging Straus for speaker “are Christians and true conservatives.” Straus is Jewish. Morrison, appointed by Bradley to help rewrite social studies curriculum standards for the state’s public schools in 2009, has also written that President Obama has “hatred and contempt for white people.” You can read more about Morrison here.
  • Former state board member and arch-creationist Don McLeroy gave $500 apiece to Bradley (District 7), Spurlock, (District 12) and District 8 incumbent and current board chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.
  • Stevenson, in the District 9 GOP contest, reported a contribution of $250 from Drew Nixon. Nixon has had legal troubles over the years and served jail time after being arrested in 1997 for offering to pay for sex with an undercover Austin police officer posing as a prostitute and for carrying a gun without a permit. Nixon was serving as a state senator from the East Texas town of Carthage at the time and didn’t run for re-election in 2000. Stevenson had just joined the State Board of Education in 1997 and was one of the board’s core religious-right members until he left the board four years later.

You can find a list of candidates and district information for all SBOE races at TFN’s election watch page.

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