Who is Marsha Farney?
GOP State Board of Education candidate Marsha Farney of Georgetown says she's coming under attack from her run-off opponent as a "closet liberal." Meanwhile, her potential Democratic opponent worries that maybe Farney could be somewhat of a continuation of the right-wingers that have caused the SBOE to become a national embarrassment.
In a statement on Farney's website, Farney claims that Austin attorney Brian Russell – her opponent in Tuesday's run-off – and his supporters have attacked her because of a $2,300 donation her husband, Bryan, made to the Barack Obama campaign during the 2008 primaries. Farney doesn't deny the donation but explains it thus: "My husband wanted to be sure that McCain would win the presidential election, so during the Democratic primary he decided to participate in Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos to extend the Democratic presidential nominating process by giving a donation to Obama." It was a strategy, she adds, "I disagreed with then and now."
Russell, for his part, says he's brought up the contribution on the campaign trail – but not to accuse Farney (who bills herself as the "common sense conservative") of liberalism. "It is not correct," Russell told the Chronicle. "She described it in the Georgetown Sun as a 'strategic donation.' I have made the indication that I don't think that's a strategic donation." As for the liberalism allegation, he says, "She cannot find or produce, despite that claim, anything that came out from our campaign stating anything of that sort."
On her website, Farney goes after Russell: "Brian Russell DID NOT DONATE A SINGLE PENNY TO SARAH PALIN OR JOHN MCCAIN, OR ANY OTHER SIGNIFICANT REPUBLICAN OFFICIAL. Yet he claims our respective donation records show he is conservative and I'm not. Public Records clearly show otherwise." A search of Federal Election Commission and Texas Ethics Commission records shows Russell making several contributions to Republican causes and candidates – but none to a presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, Democrat Judy Jennings – who will face either Russell or Farney in November for the SBOE District 10 seat – told the Chronicle: "I'm hearing people say that she introduces herself by saying, 'The first thing you need to know about me is that I'm a Christian.' I'm not sure that's the first thing people need to know."
Religion has been a driving force in recent SBOE uproars. Outgoing District 10 member Cynthia Dunbar has been a key member of a conservative Christian bloc that has tried to undermine the teaching of evolution and is now pushing for a greater emphasis on the religious motivations of the Founding Fathers. "I think this just continues more of the same focus on aspects other than education," Jennings said. "I think even Republicans are tired of the focus on religion instead of [education] issues."
Farney says the way she introduces herself "varies – it depends on the moment. It's true that I'm a Christian, and I'm not embarrassed or bothered by that." However, she says: "I believe ... the priority should be on what is in the best interest of the student. ... I am an educator. Even though I am a Republican and a conservative and a Christian, I will vote each individual issue on its merits, not in a bloc. I will vote based on what I believe represents the views of the people in District 10. I wish the State Board of Education would be focused on education, curriculum, standards, and the needs of our students to be able to compete out there in the work force and our universities. ... I consider my religious views personal. It's not just a political game."