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Republican SBOE Candidates Dodge Debates

Why all the debate hate?

By Lee Nichols, Fri., Oct. 8, 2010

Thanks to the Republican Party of Texas, what could have been some spirited debate last week among State Board of Education candidates instead became a dry-as-dust event with little real insight gained.

The debate, such as it was, was sponsored by the Austin League of Women Voters, held at KLRU-TV's studios, and moderated by Texas Tribune Editor Evan Smith. But on the advice of RPT Chair Steve Muni­steri – who claimed that the Austin chapter of the LWV was too controlled by Democrats and thus incapable of delivering a fair format – incumbent Ken Mercer (Place 5) and hopeful Marsha Farney (Place 10) did not participate (they also declined a debate held by the League of United Latin American Citizens).

Because LWV rules prohibit one-person forums (Libertarian Jessica Dreesen also did not respond), Place 10 voters were left with nothing, and Democrat Judy Jennings sat in the audience, while the Place 5 debate was reduced to Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Libertarian Mark Loewe.

Loewe, a physicist who has taught at the University of Texas and Texas State University, was not the most polished candidate but said he would push for low-cost textbooks that students would keep permanently and "progressive vouchers," which would give private schools some public money, but that amount would be reduced relative to how much private money the school could pull in.

Bell-Metereau more pointedly attacked the current board – she seeks to replace Mercer, who has been a vocal member of the board's sizable religious fundamentalist bloc – by saying: "I don't think our State Board of Edu­cation should be the laughingstock of the nation. I think we should have people that care about education and who want to listen to teachers, listen to experts and scholars in their field ... not play favorites and not bring politics into every discussion."

Asked about the appropriate role of religion in public education and board decisions, Bell-Metereau said: "There is a difference between teaching about a subject and trying to be a cheerleader for a particular subject. Where the current board has gone astray is that they really misunderstand the nature of the various subjects. So they think of history as boosterism for a particular religion or a particular country." The LWV event may be viewed online at www.vimeo.com/15469462.

The Democrats and Republicans in both races will finally meet face-to-face on Monday, Oct. 11, at a debate hosted by the Texas Business & Education Coalition. Harold Cook, spokesman for the two Democrats, opined as to why the GOP candidates took this invitation: "Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau are happy to debate their opponents and face voters anytime, anywhere, unlike either of their opponents. There is no stronger evidence of this than the Dem­ocrats' willingness to enthusiastically participate in a debate at which Bill Hammond, one of Texas' leading Republicans, is among the moderators. The other two moderators have voted in Republican primary elections as well, leaving little doubt that the Repub­lic­an SBOE candidates are only playing because they've stacked the deck."

One of those "other two" moderators, TBEC Executive Director Ken Zornes, said he's voted in both Democratic and Republican primaries, and that TBEC simply divided the panel as representatives of business (Hammond), education (Texas Association of School Boards Assistant Director Julie Shields), and TBEC.

The debates will be held in the Wells Fargo Tower, 400 W. 15th, in the third-floor auditorium. Place 5 begins at 9:30am, Place 10 at 10:45am.

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