The Case for Cynthia Dunbar

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Word has leaked out that Gov. Rick Perry may name Cynthia Dunbar as the new chair of the perpetually embarrassing State Board of Education. The news that Dunbar — one of the most outspoken of the State Board’s seven Christian conservatives — might claim the gavel elicited a collective groan from centrist and left-leaning observers and the critics who helped oust Don McLeroy from the Big Chair.

Dunbar’s critics seem to view her possible appointment as a setback. It’s nothing of the sort.You’ll remember Dunbar as the board member who last fall shared with the world her unique insights about Barack Obama. My personal favorite was her column in the Church Report Online, which isn’t edited by the Church Lady, it only reads that way. Dunbar’s piece was titled, “Barack Hussein Obama would make a great Leader…. of an Unconstitutional, Infanticidal, Communistic, Dictatorial Regime.”Subtle she ain’t. And that’s the point. Dunbar is no nuttier than McLeroy and she’s just as overt about her agenda. (By the way, you can find more Dunbar material on her site, www.cynthiadunbar.com.)It’s certainly no surprise that Perry would nominate another Christian conservative to chair the State Board.

Of course, those of you in the non-wing-nut section of the audience would prefer Perry choose a moderate, but that was never going to happen. The man’s trying to win a Republican primary against Kay Bailey, and he desperately needs the Christian Right.

So the question is, which brand of social conservative do you want? Will that person be as clear about their agenda, as ineffective and as easy a target as McLeroy?

Other members of the State Board might be far more dangerous than Dunbar, if given the opportunity.

Take, for instance, Barbara Cargill—a social conservative from The Woodlands. She’s a science teacher who runs science camps for kids. She’s soft-spoken, unfailingly polite and much savvier than McLeroy.

At a board meeting in late January, Cargill managed to pass several anti-evolutionary amendments into the new science standards by presenting them in harmless-sounding language. Cargill holds similar beliefs as Dunbar and McLeroy, but she has that Dick Cheney ability to make truly nutty ideas sound entirely reasonable.

I suspect that Cargill would be a lower-profile chair, generate less controversy and offer a more elusive target for critics. She could prove far more effective at passing a socially conservative agenda.

So the critics shouldn’t fret about Dunbar. They fared pretty well with McLeroy as a foil, and I bet the same would be true under Dunbar. They’ll always know where she’s coming from, and she’s already shown a penchant for making herself a lightning rod for criticism.

And, besides, it could be a lot worse.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.