Pro-evolution state school board candidates win

Pro-evolution state school board candidates win
The Plain Dealer, Wed, Nov 08, 2006

Scott Stephens, Plain Dealer Reporter
Ohio's scientists laid down their test tubes and flexed some political muscle Tuesday as four pro-evolution candidates they backed were on their way to capturing or retaining seats on the state Board of Education.

In the race that drew national attention, Tom Sawyer, a former Akron mayor and 16-year congressman, was beating incumbent Deborah Owens Fink nearly 2-1 for a board seat that covers Summit, Ashtabula, Portage and Trumbull counties.

"I believe the state board of education should have a far stronger voice than it had," Sawyer said Tuesday night.

State board races are nonpartisan, but Owens Fink fell victim to a strong Democratic turnout and an opponent with a still-potent name among party faithful.

"In reality, it's a very, very Democratic area and a tough place to be a Republican," she said.

Like the bitter school board battles in Kansas last summer, the Ohio board races produced high drama. Voters were treated to the unusual sight of Kenneth Miller, a nationally renowned biologist, stumping like a ward-heeler for pro-evolution candidates, and Pastor Ernie Sanders, an evangelical radio host, blasting Sawyer as a merchant of sin.

Sawyer, a former teacher who once was chairman of the Ohio House Education Committee, was recruited to run for the seat by Help Ohio Public Education, a group of scientists angered by the board's flirtation with intelligent design, which courts have barred from science class.

"We were looking first and foremost to raise public awareness, and these numbers were much higher than past years," said Patricia Princehouse, co-founder of HOPE.

Three other HOPE-backed candidates appeared headed for victory Tuesday: former state legislator John Bender of Avon and retired school teacher Deborah Cain of Canton were clinging to narrow leads, and incumbent Sam Schloemer of Cincinnati was winning handily.

But the group's biggest target was Owens Fink, a University of Akron marketing professor. She was one of the most articulate proponents of a model lesson for 10th-grade biology teachers that called for a "critical analysis" of Charles Darwin's widely held theory that life on Earth descended from common ancestors.