Chronicle Election Coverage
The balance of power on the State Board of Education shifted back to the right Tuesday, as professed Christian Cynthia Thornton rode the statewide Republican wave to victory over religious-right watchdog Donna Howard in District 10. That seat was vacated by longtime board member Will Davis, regarded as an important bulwark against the right-wing extremists who have gained influence on the board.
During the campaign, Howard cited Thornton's responses on surveys distributed by conservative Christian groups as evidence that the Republican candidate was in cahoots with the right-wing insurgents who grew into a formidable bloc on the board three years ago. On those surveys, Thornton said she supported prayer in schools and the teaching of creationism, and said she disapproved of providing family-planning counseling on school campuses.
But Thornton claimed she wasn't advocating that religious ideas be taught in schools, only that local districts should have the freedom to include religion in their curricula if they choose. Thornton did say, however, that she thought teaching sex education in schools intruded on parents' rights.
Parents who want public education steeped more deeply in religious values will undoubtedly see Thornton's election as a step in their direction, especially coming alongside the re-election of Dist. 7 member David Bradley, the right-wingers' most prominent leader on the board. Liberals now count five hard-core conservatives on the 15-member board, and three members, including Thornton, likely to sympathize with the religious conservatives' views at least part of the time. Only five Democrats now hold seats on the board.
Thornton says, however, that moderate Republicans, including state Sen. Bill Ratliff, supported her campaign specifically because she's a schoolteacher who has no desire to fraternize with the board's religious clique.
"Every vote and every decision that I make will be what I believe to be [in] the best interests of the children of Texas. I'm not a part of the left, the right, or the middle," says Thornton. "I will vote as an individual, not as [part of] a group."
Howard, a former Eanes school board member and West Lake Hills resident, comfortably carried the Travis County vote, which typically controls the Dist. 10 race. But with a Texas governor running for president and voter turnout high across the state this year, the Travis vote was vanquished by the other 15 counties, predominantly rural, that form the rest of the district. Thornton got 50% of the vote to Howard's 45%, with Libertarian Nancy C. Neale picking up the remainder.