It was good to see the State Board of Education race in North Texas getting some well-deserved attention in the Texas Tribune. Pat Hardy has been one of the sensible conservatives on the State Board for a dozen years, but for some that’s not enough. Real conservatives want creation science taught in Texas classrooms. Real conservatives must believe that Texas school children are being taught that the 9-11 terrorists were freedom fighters and that communism is terrific.
Or so says Eric Mahroum, Hardy’s opponent in the imminent runoff election.
Hardy has been placed in a difficult position. Mahroum’s contentions may sound crazy to folks who don’t live in Texas, but most of them have been written into the state’s Republican platform (which, much to the embarrassment of moderate Republicans, reads like Tea Party screed from beginning to end). This explains Mahroum’s central contention:
She’s here for the Republican Party and that means she has to represent her party and our platform.”
The article mentions Democratic candidate Nancy Bean (my wife in case you were wondering) only in passing, the assumption being that either Republican candidate will have a powerful advantage in November. Perhaps. But if the Tea Party man wins this runoff, a lot of moderate Republicans will be tempted to vote for the alternative candidate even if it means losing the convenience of voting a straight ticket.
One could comment on the confused dishonesty of Mahroum’s rhetoric, but his appeal to the scriptural authority of the Republican platform is the central issue at this point. Party platforms are almost always written by the activist wing of the state party, and this document is no exception. Many Republicans flatly disagree with their party’s platform, but they continue to vote for the red team anyway because, well, what would the neighbors think?
But moderate Republicans can tolerate only so much idiocy. There is a limit. Where the line is drawn is anybody’s guess; but if Pat Hardy loses this runoff election, we may find out.
May 8, 2014
Pat Hardy, a 12-year incumbent on the State Board of Education, is facing a tough challenge from a conservative activist in a Republican primary runoff that could shift the balance of power on the board.
Tea Party groups in the district, which includes Parker County and parts of Tarrant and Dallas counties, have thrown their support behind Hardy’s opponent, Eric Mahroum of Fort Worth, a restaurant manager who has no teaching or school administrative experience and is expected to vote with the far-right voting bloc on the 15-member, Republican-dominated board. Hardy has drawn criticism for taking votes with Democrats on the board, including on issues like teaching creationism alongside evolution in the state’s public schools.
“Potentially, this race could alter the ideological balance of power on the board,” said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, an organization that monitors religious influence in Texas schools. “The key difference between Pat Hardy and the other conservatives is that she refuses to vote in the rigid obedience of whatever [the far-right bloc] wants, and that has made her their enemy.”
Mahroum, who received 43.5 percent of the vote in the March primary, said he decided to challenge Hardy because she was too moderate for the conservative district. Hardy received 49.6 percent of the vote — just shy of the 50 percent she needed to avoid a runoff. Whichever Republican claims victory in the district will have a strong advantage over Democratic candidate Nancy Bean in the November general election.
“We need a fresh voice on that board. It’s time for her to go,” Mahroum said of Hardy, adding, “She’s not conservative and she’s not representing her constituents.”
Observers say the enthusiasm among conservatives for Mahroum may make it difficult for Hardy to prevail in the runoff, for which turnout will likely be low.
“One of the strengths of the Tea Party has been that they vote. For every election from dog catcher to president, they get out and vote very consistently,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, which has donated to Hardy. “If that’s true this time around and if the pro-education part of the electorate doesn’t also get out and vote, then Pat’s going to lose.”
Hardy, who taught social studies for 30 years, touts her experience on the board, including her tenure as the leader of the committee that oversees the Permanent School Fund. She dismissed criticism that she is too moderate and said she would continue to work with members of both parties.
“The goal should be to find a way to work out the issues that’s best for our children and for the state, not for any political bends,” Hardy said.
Hardy also emphasized her role as a liaison between the board members and educators.
“When I was first elected, there was this adversarial role between teachers and board members,” Hardy said. “But now, the professional expertise of math teachers or science teachers or social studies teachers is welcomed, even relied upon.”
Mahroum credited Hardy’s experience as an educator but said she was no longer adequately representing her district.
“All the experience in the world is great, but she’s here for the Republican Party and that means she has to represent her party and our platform,” he said.
Debate has also flared in the race over CSCOPE, a state-approved curriculum system that conservatives have said promotes a liberal agenda.
“You have CSCOPE teaching our children that communism is okay, that the 9/11 terrorists were freedom fighters,” he said. “That does not need to be in the curriculum.”
Hardy said that Mahroum, like many people, misunderstands how CSCOPE works.
“CSCOPE was an attempt to bring curriculum to smaller school districts and those that don’t have the funding to create their own curriculum,” she said. “There’s absolutely nothing demonic or diabolical about those lesson plans.”
Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.