Voters will head to the Tuesday polls to settle runoff elections from the March primaries. There are a few local seats up for grabs.
The highest profile of these races features controversial former teacher running for the State Board of Education faces off with a school board teacher for a massive district that runs eastward from Rockwall County. Also in East Texas, a Texas Senate race pits two Republican statehouse representatives against each other.
In North Texas, Tarrant County voters will decide whether to grant a sheriff his wish for a fifth and final term.
State Board of Education District 9
While scant attention is usually paid to races for the state education board, this one has grabbed national headlines.
Mary Lou Bruner spent more than three decades working in public schools in East Texas. And while she prefers to talk about teaching the basics in schools, a series of Facebook posts she’s penned have eclipsed her message.
In one, Bruner said President Barack Obama was once a gay prostitute to pay for a drug habit. She said Democrats assassinated President John F. Kennedy in order to install Lyndon Johnson, who she says was a true socialist. Bruner claims climate change a Marxist hoax intended to convince American children the country should pay reparations to the developing world. It’s one of several global conspiracy theories she believes in.
“Those Facebook postings are just one little dot in my whole lifetime, and they’re controversial, but I still don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” Bruner said in March. “I have a first amendment right to say what I want to say.”
Bruner also said that schools should not present families with same-sex parents as legitimate, and railed against reading children’s books in schools that promote tolerance of transgender people.
Bruner’s opponent, Keven Ellis accused Bruner of spreading fear and hate. He said she might return the Board of Education to the ideological battle ground it used to be.
Ellis is president of the school board in Lufkin, and says he wants a conservative approach to education.
“I believe Texans know best how to educate Texas children,” Ellis said. “And you could take that same thought process down to the local level. That whatever community you’re in, those people who are on the local school board know best how to educate their local children.”
Ellis said he thinks education board members should oversee the revision of state standards by subject matter experts, rather than inject their own ideology into curricula. He told WFAA this weekend that it was not the place of public schools to teach religion.
District 9 includes 31 mostly small-town and rural counties stretching from Rockwall County in the Dallas suburbs to the Arkansas state line, and from the Oklahoma border to the middle of East Texas.
Back in March, Bruner got 48 percent of the vote, leaving her with a double digit lead over Ellis. She was pretty optimistic when I ran into her at the Texas GOP Convention a couple weeks ago that she would maintain that distance.
Still, Bruner took a major hit earlier this month at a meeting with area school superintendents where Bruner criticized the state of public education. It was captured on cell phone video, and in it you can hear local school leaders push back forcefully against both the facts she presented, as well as her conclusion that said that she was basing her Hawkins ISD superintendent Morris Lyons say that he is insulted by Bruner’s critique, which he called baseless.
You hear the crowd of school leaders chiming in there. Bruner has defended her remarks. Still, the incident cost her the endorsement of an influential Tyler-based tea party group.
Senate District 1
Two Texas House representatives are vying to fill a seat in the state senate. Sen. Kevin Elftife of Tyler announced his plan to retire.
Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola has a reputation for being something of a maverick in the House -- he’s often a swing vote on contentious conservative issues. He led the four-way race for the seat by a hefty margin, but not enough to win outright.
Rep. David Simpson of Longview came in second in the race by a margin of just 13 votes. He’s drawn big endorsements from powerful conservatives, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate.
In both this race and that Board of Education race, the Republican primary winner out in bright red East Texas is the likely winner of the seat.
Tarrant County Sheriff
Right. Longtime Sheriff Dee Anderson says he’s running for his fifth and final term, but he’s been forced to really fight for it. He’s facing a serious challenge from former Dalworthington Gardens police chief Bill Waybourn.
Anderson told WFAA his 16-year tenure speaks for itself.
“We’ve had no scandals,” Anderson said. “We’ve passed 15 straight jail inspections, we’re one of the departments that works under budget consistently.”
Waybourn, though, has said the Tarrant County Sheriff should be more engaged with local communities, especially communities of color. He’d also like to see a local, multi-agency anti-terrorism efford led by the sheriff’s office.
“The FBI said they’re overwhelmed,” Waybourn said. “So we need to stand up and be able to keep our eye out and have our own intelligence gathering program.”
Anderson has locked down a host of local endorsements, including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilsen and three of five members of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court.
Waybourn has touted support from former Gov. Rick Perry and some local police associations.