TX: Republican state board of education candidates ride GOP tidal wave to victories
Democratic contenders for the Texas State Board of Education were swept away along with their higher-profile partisan comrades in Tuesday night’s GOP tsunami. Even though Republicans gained an SBOE spot from Democrats, the new board still might prove more moderate than the extremely conservative board that precedes it.
Perhaps the most surprising win came in District 1, where Republican newcomer Carolos “Charlie” Garza unseated longtime incumbent Democrat Rene Nunez with 54-46 percent margin of the vote. Nunez has served on the board for 22 years and was the only SBOE incumbent Democrat facing a GOP challenger this election cycle. An assistant principal from El Paso, Garza said he was approached to run by Gov. Rick Perry and is hesitant to label himself a conservative. Garza heavily outraised his opponent during the campaign for District 1, which stretches along the border from El Paso to Starr counties.
In District 10, Republican Marsha Farney glided to victory with 58-38 percent of the vote against Democrat Judy Jennings, while Libertarian Jessica Dressen pulled in about 3 percent of the vote. With similar backgrounds in curriculum and education, both Farney and Jennings sought to distinguish themselves with distinct messages based on personal values and priorities during their campaigns. Farney, a conservative Republican, has said she will remove politics from the decision-making process, and unlike her predecessor, supports the concept and institution of public education.
Sprawling across 16 counties including Travis and Williamson, District 10 was up for grabs after controversial socially conservative member Cynthia Dunbar (R-Richmond) did not seek reelection.
Eyes were also fixed on District 5, where incumbent Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) easily dispatched Democratic challenger Rebecca Bell-Metereau, 61-34 percent. Libertarian candidate Mark Lowe garnered just below 4 percent of the vote. The race pitted university professor Bell-Metereau against computer software manager Mercer, a steadfast member of the board’s social conservative bloc. At times, the race got heated: Days before the election, Mercer sent out a deluge of e-mails targeting Bell-Metereau as a, “liberal extremist,” while a Bell-Metereau-supported TV ad described Mercer as a partisan ideologue. The Democratic challenger considerably outspent Mercer throughout the campaign, but that didn’t matter to voters in the district, which trends toward the GOP even in typical election years. District 5 includes all or part of 12 counties, including south Travis and north Bexar counties.
Despite the conservatives’ victories, many are convinced that the new SBOE will be more politically centered than before, due to primary wins by moderate Republicans Thomas Ratliff, who replaced leading social conservative Don McLeroy (R-Bryan), and George Clayton, who ousted 26-year incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas. The first-time board members faced largely uncompetitive general election races.
Also influencing the ideological balance of the SBOE was the reelection of moderate GOP incumbent Bob Craig (R-Lubbock) and Democrat Michael Soto’s replacing of Rick Agosto (D-San Antonio), who oftentimes sided with the conservative bloc on contentious issues.
All 15 SBOE seats will be in for grabs in 2012, after the redistricting effort legislators will undertake in spring 2011.
(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/dave_mcmt, Image by Matt Mahurin)