Because of redistricting, all 15 seats on the Texas State Board of Education will be up for grabs in the November 2012 elections. The results of those elections will determine whether the religious right’s corrosive influence over public education will weaken or grow as the board considers what the next generation of public school students in Texas will learn about sex education, social studies, science and other subjects. We plan to publish on TFN Insider candidate announcements for a seat on the SBOE. We will publish announcements in no particular order, and their publication does not constitute any sort of endorsement by TFN. We will redact requests for contributions or mentions of fundraising events from the announcements, but we will provide links to the candidates’ websites (if available). Thomas Ratliff, District 9, R-Mt. Pleasant (Incumbent) District 9 SBOE member Thomas Ratliff announced Dec. 6 that he would seek re-election. Ratliff was first elected in 2010 when he defeated Don McLeroy in the Republican primary and then ran unopposed in the general election. His website can be found here. After talking with family, friends, teachers and taxpayers across the district, it is my honor to announce that I will seek re-election to the State Board of Education. During my first year in office, I have maintained my dedication to take the partisan politics out of the State Board of Education and to work with both sides of the aisle to do what is best for the schoolchildren in Northeast Texas. While we aren’t there yet, I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish so far. I am also proud to be supported by Texas professional teacher associations that together represent over 15,000 teachers in my district. They know that I am staying focused on education, not politics, and doing what’s best for our students. I have also worked extremely hard to bring an unprecedented level of cooperation and communication between Northeast Texas and their representative on the State Board of Education. In fact, a school board member told me I was the first member of the SBOE to come talk to his school board in his 11 years on his local school board. As with my first election, I promise to run a positive campaign that is focused on the challenges facing our schools and what the State Board of Education can do to address those challenges. I will not run a negative race. The people of East Texas deserve better. I will continue to talk about my position on the issues in a straightforward manner and give the voters a clear understanding of their choice in this election. I will also continue to make myself available to anyone interested in public education in Texas. My email is Thomas@thomasratliff.com and I would be happy to hear from you. Read More

If history is any judge, next year’s Texas State Board of Education elections could get very nasty. The image at left (click to enlarge) comes from a campaign flyer supporting Randy Stevenson in his successful election race for the board in 1994:

“Homosexuality. Lesbian Adoption. Condom Usage. Do you want your children learning about this in school? The liberals on the State Board of Education do.”

Almost identical flyers supported other religious-right candidates the same year, with the names of candidates swapped out on each one.

Stevenson, a Tyler resident who left the board after the 1998 elections, is challenging board incumbent Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant in the Republican primary in March of next year. Ratliff defeated religious-right board member Don McLeroy in the 2010 GOP primary.

The 1994 elections that first brought Stevenson to the board came as board members debated proposed new high school health textbooks. Religious-righters demanded that the board reject textbooks they said promoted contraception and homosexuality and included other information they found objectionable. They even called for removing line-drawings of self-exams for testicular and breast cancer (too suggestive) and for replacing a photo of a woman carrying a briefcase with one… Read More

So what's with the dishonest campaign to remove from office a State Board of Education member who had the gall to challenge -- successfully -- the re-election of a prominent member of the state board's far-right faction in 2010? Just another example of the far right's contempt for Texas voters. We're talking about Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant who defeated Don "Somebody's Gotta Stand Up to Experts" McLeroy in last year's GOP primary for the District 9 state board seat. McLeroy, a College Station dentist and self-identified "young Earth creationist," had served as Gov. Rick Perry's state board chairman from 2007 to 2009 and led efforts to dumb down instruction on evolution in public school science classes. Ratliff's victory over McLeroy infuriated other far-right board members and their supporters. But because voters clearly preferred a common-sense approach to education over McLeroy's repeated efforts to promote his own personal beliefs in public schools, Ratliff's critics have adopted a legal strategy to get him thrown off the board. They claim Texas law forbids Ratliff from serving on the board because he is a registered lobbyist. But that prohibition applies only to lobbyists who are paid to work on business related to the board's operations. Ratliff has pointed out repeatedly that he does not. In January, to settle the matter, Ratliff asked then-Chairwoman Gail Lowe -- a member of the state board's far-right faction -- to seek an opinion from the Texas attorney general on his eligibility to serve on the board. Ratliff also asked the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney's Office to determine whether he was breaking the law. Last week Attorney General Greg Abbott's office released an official opinion on the matter. That followed a finding from the Public Integrity Unit last March. Neither document says what the board's far-right members wanted to hear. Read More

UPDATE: Apparently, someone was embarrassed that we were highlighting Barbara Cargill’s comments at a Texas Eagle Forum event last week. YouTube videos of those comments have now been made private. No matter. We already have those comments and the videos. We’ll have more from Cargill’s talk — this time her troubling comments about the coming of adoption of science instructional materials — shortly.

NEWER UPDATE: The video linked in the post is available again.

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Well, this sure didn’t take long. Last Tuesday the San Antonio Express-News quoted newly appointed Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill as saying that she would “facilitate the meetings with a lot of character and a listening ear because we all represent our various districts, so we certainly want to hear from every board member on the issues.” Then just two days later she questioned the faith and politics of fellow board members whose views are different from her own.

Speaking Thursday night at a Texas Eagle Forum event in Conroe, this is how Cargill, R-The Woodlands, described the faction of board members with whom she votes in lockstep:

“Right now there are six true… Read More

Far-right members of the Texas State Board of Education are steamed that Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, defeated their ally Don McLeroy, R-College Station, in the March Republican primary last year. Since at least last November, they have been insisting that Ratliff’s status as a registered lobbyist makes him ineligible to serve on the board under state law. Things got particularly nasty at the January board meeting, with far-right members like Terri Leo, R-Spring, openly criticizing Ratliff’s presence on the board as a violation of the law. Far-right pressure groups joined in, with one asking the state’s attorney general to investigate.

Ratliff replied by requesting that board chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, ask for a formal opinion on the matter from state Attorney General Greg Abbott. He also asked the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to look into the matter. Abbott has yet to issue his opinion, but the Travis County DA’s office just did.

In a letter released today, Susan H. Oswalt of the Public Integrity Unit explains that her office has reviewed the relevant statute, examined all of the available evidence and discussed the matter with the chairs of the House… Read More

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