McLeroy nomination – still dead?

May 26, 2009

Molly Ivins’ untimely passing becomes acutely painful when the Texas Lege comes down to the last days of a session.  Who can make sense of it without Molly?

We thought a couple weeks ago that Gov. Rick Perry’s nomination of creationist wedge politician Don McLeroy was dead, when the Senate Nominations Committee took testimony and failed to report the nomination, to chair the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).

Then last week, in one of those surprise moves that even the Texas legislators responsible often cannot explain, the nomination rose from the dead and stumbled, zombie-like, to the Senate floor for a vote this week — maybe as soon as today, Tuesday, May 26.

The Houston Chronicle reports that all 12 Senate Democrats will vote against the nomination, dooming it (according to The Lonesome Mongoose, via Pharyngula).

The Bryan dentist has presided over a contentious 15-member State Board of Education that fought over curriculum standards for science earlier this year and English language arts and reading last year. Critics faulted McLeroy for applying his strong religious beliefs in shaping new science standards. McLeroy believes in creationism and that the Earth is about 6,000 years old.

“This particular State Board of Education under the leadership of Dr. McLeroy has been divisive. It’s been dysfunctional, and it has been embarrassing to the point of having commentary on this in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

McLeroy’s leadership, she said, had made Texas “the laughing stock of the nation.”

It takes 11 votes to block a gubernatorial nomination. Van de Putte said all 12 Senate Democrats plan to vote against McLeroy

Don’t count your dead nominations before the silver stakes are driven.  Stay tuned.  Maybe you should call your Texas senator again on Tuesday. Pray, cross your fingers, hope, and pass the ammunition.

If the nomination fails, it is still foggy as Donora, Pennsylvania on its worst days as to who will head the group.  The chairman must come from one of the 15 elected members.  Most people who might win Rick Perry’s selection are creationists.  If Perry is wise, he’ll try to choose someone who is a capable administrator, wise chairman of hearings, and who lacks the desire to annoy key players in education, like administrators, teachers, parents, Texas college presidents and professors, and state legislators.  Alas for Texas, Winston Churchill is not a member of the SBOE, nor is Mitt Romney.

The Senate rarely blocks a governor’s appointment.

There is speculation in the Capitol and within the Texas Education Agency that Gov. Rick Perry might elevate Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, to lead the board. Like McLeroy, Dunbar also holds strong Christian beliefs and recently authored a book that advocates more religion in the public square.

“We believe that Texans deserve better than divisive, destructive, extreme leadership,” Shapleigh said. “If the governor chooses to appoint someone more extreme and more divisive, we’ll have to deal with that at the appropriate time.”

McLeroy’s tenure as chairman of SBOE is one of those waves we were warned about in 1983 lin the Excellence in Education Report, which warned of a “rising tide of mediocrity.”  The divisions and crude politics, heavy-handed destruction of statutory and regulatory procedures, at best distracts from the drive for better education, but more often leans toward the worst, sabatoging the work of students, teachers, parents, administrators and legislatures.

Do you pray?  Pray that Texas education be delivered safely and intact from this time of trial.  Whether you pray or not, call your Texas legislator and tell her or him to straighten out the SBOE.

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