Perpetuating voter ignorance

Gov. Rick Perry may not be the only candidate for state office trying to dodge a televised debate with his opponent this fall – if that’s what he’s really trying to do. (He may be just using his footdragging as an excuse to keep yammering away at a nonissue – Bill White’s tax returns.)

Aided and abetted by their state party chairman, two Republican nominees for the State Board of Education also may be trying to avoid televised, headtohead encounters with their opponents. And debates in those races arguably may be more critical to voters than a gubernatorial debate

Voters, except for those asleep under a log somewhere, already have a wealth of readily available information on which to base their decisions in the governor’s race. But State Board of Education races are of the stealth variety, leaving a lot of voters guessing among largely unknown candidates on Election Day – and then laughing at all the jokes about some quirky Texas education board on latenight TV a few months later. Voters need to see more of these candidates.

The Greater Austin League of Women Voters is planning a candidate forum, or debate, among candidates for SBOE Districts 5 and 10, which cover Austin, a large section of central Texas, San Antonio and part of the Houston area. The debate is to be moderated by a journalist and broadcast Sept. 28 on KLRU, Austin’s public television station.

For several months now, according to an item in Quorum Report, both Republican nominees have declined to respond to invitations from the league.

The District 5 Republican nominee is Ken Mercer of San Antonio, an incumbent member of the SBOE’s rightwing bloc that interjected its religious and conservative political beliefs into the social studies curriculum standards earlier this year. He has been one of the board’s major deniers of the separation of church and state principle.

The District 10 GOP nominee for an open seat is Marsha Farney of Georgetown, a former teacher and school counselor who defeated a seemingly more conservative candidate in a Republican runoff last spring. But then she showed up at a Tea Party rally on July 4 and told the crowd that she would rather be there “than with those Americabashing Democrats.” Sounds like she was trying to reserve a seat on the farright side of the SBOE table.

Mercer and Farney obviously want to pick their campaign audiences carefully. And, whether in consultation with the candidates or not, Texas Republican Chairman Steve Munisteri gave them some cover this week by issuing a statement urging them to skip the debate.

Munisteri contended the League of Women Voters, which has a long history of nonpartisan political education, couldn’t be trusted to host the event because the leaders of its Austin branch are all Democrats.

Munisteri is playing games and trying to perpetuate voter ignorance, which he believes will benefit the Republican SBOE candidates. The League of Women Voters, meanwhile, has extended its deadline for candidate participation from Sept. 1 to Sept. 10.

TSTA is backing Democrat Rebecca BellMetereau, a professor at Texas State University, in District 5, and Judy Jennings, a former employee of the Texas Education Agency, in District 10. Both are strong supporters of public education, and both are planning to attend the Austin debate, if there is one.


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