The Religious Right suffered a surprise setback in Texas when incumbent Don McLeroy—a creationist and critic of church-state separation—narrowly lost his re-election bid for the powerful State Board of Education to challenger Thomas Ratliff in the March 2 Republican primary.
McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan, lost by fewer than 900 votes. Since no Democrat filed for the race, Ratliff will assume the seat next year. Ratliff, a legislative consultant and lobbyist from Mt. Pleasant, is the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.
I have pointed out before that Republican elites are split on evolution. One dynamic which has played out repeatedly since the 1980s is that the Religious Right has taken over school boards and attempted to push Creationism, which usually results in a successful reaction by those in the Republican establishment who mobilize to “take back their schools” and the like. Eventually with the victory the motivation for turnout and organization for these generally low publicity positions declines, at which point the Religious Right can move back in again. And so the cycle begins anew.
It might seem strange that Republicans who aren’t core members of the Religious Right would repeatedly rise up and work to oust fellow partisans based around such academic topics. But I recall in 1999 when Kansas was dominated by Religious Right school board members who were attempting to push Creationism there were loud complaints from businesses. When engineering firms were trying to recruit talent apparently one issue which came up from prospective employees was school quality, in particular the science curriculum. This is a classic case where business and social conservatism will always be at cross-purposes periodically. Resolution can only come if the Religious Right manages to capture the cultural commanding heights and make their beliefs normative, at which point they would be good for business. I am skeptical that this will happen.