Watchdogs say Texas dodged 'train wreck' on education board

AP News
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Posted: May 25, 2016 2:21 AM
Watchdogs say Texas dodged 'train wreck' on education board

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — When Texas takes up always-contentions revisions of science and social studies coursework in 2017, a former schoolteacher who believes dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark and Democrats killed John F. Kennedy won't have a vote.

Mary Lou Bruner lost her Republican primary runoff for a seat on the powerful Texas State Board of Education on Tuesday night, just two months after a near-outright victory that would have put her on the brink of having a say in what more than 5 million schoolchildren learn in classrooms and read in textbooks.

The 69-year-old Bruner has posted on Facebook claims that President Barack Obama is a gay prostitute, climate change is a hoax concocted by Karl Marx and that Obama's health care overhaul was an orchestrated plot to wipe 200 million people from the U.S. population. She also wrote that the flood from the biblical story of Noah's Ark is what destroyed the dinosaurs, not a meteor as "concocted" by atheists.

In March, Bruner came within two percentage points of avoiding a runoff altogether. But Republican voters flocked this time to Keven Ellis, a local school board president in Lufkin who ran a mainstream campaign.

"I honestly believe that in the primary — that was during the presidential primary, too — our race just got buried," said Ellis, who wouldn't criticize Bruner following his victory and instead thanked her for her career as a teacher.

"Voters just may have selected a name," Ellis said.

Ellis easily won with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Bruner's fade was perhaps tied not only to increasing attention surrounding her since-deleted Facebook posts but also to an influential tea party group recently withdrawing its endorsement. Grassroots America did not cite Bruner's conspiracy theories and fringe political screeds on social media in taking back its support but rather her making inaccurate school data claims.

Bruner did not respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday night.

In an interview with Dallas television station WFAA in the weekend before the runoff, she did not disavow her Facebook posts.

"When I wrote those things, I wasn't even intending to run for the State Board of Education. I had no idea that I would," she said.

Ellis will be heavily favored to beat his Democratic opponent, a college professor, in November because the East Texas district is so staunchly conservative.

Some of Bruner's Facebooks posts were several years old and were saved by the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning watchdog of the state education board, before disappearing from her page.

"Texas escaped an education train wreck tonight," the group's president, Kathy Miller, said.

Bruner's election would have been stunning, even given that the Texas State Board of Education was chaired until 2011 by a creationist who tried weakening evolution lessons in science classrooms. The 15-member panel next year is scheduled to take up divisive revisions that could change what Texas student learn about science and social studies.

Curriculum battles on the Texas education board are often closely watched over worries that the state's textbook buying power influences what winds up in classrooms across the U.S. But publishing experts say technology now allows the industry to more easily customize textbooks for individual markets.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber