Head of state education board denied reappointment

Head of state education board denied reappointment
By JACKIE STONE - The Associated Press - May 28, 2009
AUSTIN, Texas Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked the reappointment of the conservative head of the state board that sets standards and policies for Texas public schools.

The 19-11 vote was shy of the two-thirds approval needed to support Gov. Rick Perry's nomination of Don McLeroy as chairman of the State Board of Education.

McLeroy a Republican and self-described creationist has been chairman of the board since 2007 and will remain a member. McLeroy has supported requiring students to "evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency" of natural selection.

Democratic senators said McLeroy has sown division as leader of the board and opened the state to criticism in newspaper editorials as far away as New York and Washington. McLeroy supporters called it a partisan objection that applied a "religious test" for public office.

"The perception if we vote against Dr. McLeroy amongst a significant number of Texans is if you are a conservative, if you believe in the infallibility and the literacy of the Bible, there's no need to apply to be on the State Board of Education. And I don't know that we want to send that message," said Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan. Ogden said the Bryan dentist is qualified and has the governor's support.

Democrats repeatedly denied that the attempt to block McLeroy was about religion. They said it was about protecting education and leadership that is not based on one man's beliefs.

"People have a right to be confident that the State Board of Education is putting the interests of our children above ideology, politics and everything else, including the so-called good fight," said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. "Whether they agree with McLeroy or not, Texans simply cannot have faith in this board when it is led by a man who has so enthusiastically embraced his role in these endless culture wars."

Democrats said while McLeroy has been chairman the board has disregarded expert testimony and gone around the law while setting textbooks and curriculum. Republicans said the objections were vague and full of innuendo.

"To a certain degree it's a slur. And to say that someone is not qualified to be on the State Board of Education as chairman because the New York Times or Washington Post criticizes him is ridiculous," Ogden said.

McLeroy said after his nomination was rejected that he appreciated Perry's support and was proud of his work as chairman.

McLeroy said the issues the board deals with in setting education standards particularly evolution are inherently controversial. He said he doesn't believe religion was inserted in the standards under his watch, but said religion is naturally a part of everything he does.

"I think it's important that people live consistent with their beliefs," McLeroy said.

Perry must now nominate a new chairman for the 15-member board.

This is the second time this session that senators have knocked down a nomination from the governor. Earlier this month they voted 27-4 to reject the nomination of Shanda Perkins a former banker from Burleson to the Board of Pardons and Appeals. They said she wasn't qualified for the post.