Dragon Slayers BY SCOTT HENSON Round Rock Rr OUND ROCK Independent School District is feeling shock waves after eligious conservatives swept their slate of candidates into office and are now poised to determine the board’s agenda for the immediate future. Statewide and across the country, local activists affiliated with the Christian Coalition and Citizens for. Excellence in ments to take over school boards, one at a time. Robert Simonds, president of the California-based CEE, has estimated his organization has helped elect 3,000 to 4,000 school board members nationally. Citizens for Excellence for Education and the Christian Coalition both have chapters in nearly every sizable population center in the state, and have been active particularly in conservative suburban school districts outside Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. Austin and Central Texas, though, always have been considered the most liberal areas in the state. For CEE to make significant inroads in Round Rock, a 35,000-person suburb 15 miles from downtown Austin, has begun to awaken some people in the capital to the growing power of religious ‘conservatives in local school boards. Sweeping Elections The Round Rock chapter of Citizens for Excellence in Education kicked into gear for the first time for the May election, with spectacular results for rookie politicos. RRISD elections drew 5,000 voters, the highest turnout in recent memory, after CEE distributed thousands of “voter guides” in local churches. The voter guides detailed school board candidates’ positions on “pro-family” issues, according to newly elected board member Kathi Seay, who is also Round Rock CEE director. This method of using a non-profit organization to support candidates, without formally endorsing them is advocated in numerous religious right organizing guides, including The Blue Book of Grassroots Politics by Charlie Phillips of Austin, the Christian Coalition organizers manual and other publications. The guides did not endorse candidates but instead reported their responses to a CEE questionnaire. While not formally affiliated with the Seay campaign, the guides were very sym Scott Henson is a freelance writer in Austin. pathetic to Seay and the other two victorious candidates Archie Holmes and Nelda Click and are probably a big reason they won on election day. The guides were prepared by Sue Foltz, who served as Round Rock’s CEE director before Seay. Foltz, also a Seay campaign volunteer and donor, is the wife of Seay’s campaign treasurer. CEE, the Christian Coalition and other grass-roots groups have used similar church-based organizing tactics successfully across the country to elect conservative Christians to public office, and Round Rock is one site of this movement. Seay herself credits extensive block walking, not CEE’s voter guides, as the reason for her victory. She even listed her CEE affiliation on the 18,000 pieces of campaign literature she distributed, she said, citing the openness about her affiliation as proof that she did not run a “stealth campaign.” Seay said the term religious right is used too much in a derogatory manner. “Just because you stand up and believe in Christian values does not mean that you are a fanatical rightwing organization,” she said. Seay said she pays dues and is on the mailing list of religious conservative groups such as Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition and the American Family Association, but she is not an active member of anything but CEE. She is also a contact person to distribute Christian Coalition literature in the Round Rock area, she said. Sadly, but perhaps predictably, no local or Austin publication prbvided much meaningful campaign coverage, leaving the Dallas Morning News to pick up the slack as part of its statewide post-election coverage in June. As often happens when major dailies cover small-town politics, the Morning News account did not sufficiently explore the dynamics of the new RRISD school board, reporting with little explanation that the religious right had “gained a majority.” That version may stretch the truth a bit, which is not to say that there’s no cause for concern. While the organized religious right did not field four of seven candidates and win, the May election established a majority voting bloc of like-minded board members, and marked an important shift in power in Round Rock. This new majority, according to observers, has more or less taken over setting the board’s agenda. It includes the three new board members Kathi Seay, Archie Holmes, and Nelda Click and board president Judy McLeod, with board, member Marilyn Blewitt often joining them. Of those, only Seay openly identifies herself with CEE. Holmes and Click have said they are not members, but they were associated with the organization in its beginning stages, according to Karen Apperson, a PTA member who attended CEE’s early meetings and saw them both there. Seay stepped down from her position as director of the local chapter to run for office, but returned to the position once she was in. Board president McLeod is decidedly conservative, but has no affiliation with any major religious right organization. Seay bristles at the term “religious right,” declaring that the Dallas Morning News reporter had misquoted her as saying the religious right had taken over the RRISD school board. In fact, she insisted, she had told him that “conservatives have probably taken over the school board.” Book Banning at RRISD Often, an early indication that an active religious right has organized in a community is an attempt to remove books from either school libraries or course curricula. In Round Rock, two parents, Paul and Cynthia Gray, launched a campaign last fall to have three books removed from the Deer Park Middle School library. The Grays have been active members of CEE since before filing their book reconsideration requests, though they insist that the reconsideration is not a “CEE project. And Paul Gray chaired CEE’s meetings while Seay ran for office. “Most parents are not aware that these kinds of books are in classrooms,” said Cynthia Gray in an interview. “It’s the school library, you don’t think that . you have to screen what they’re reading.” The books The Face on the Milk Carton, The Boy Who Lost His Face, and Chain Letter were attacked for use of profanity, “sexual innuendo,” and depiction of alcohol use. Along with their “Request for Reconsideration,” obtained by this reporter under the Texas Open Records Act, the Grays included extensive excerpts, totaling five full typewritten pages, from all three books. For The Boy Who Lost His Face, for example, they listed .14 objectionable phrases \(“bullshit,” “fartface,” phrase appeared. Mr. Gray, who prepared the excerpts, also quoted at length a scene from Chain Letter in which a football coach seduces a female student, a suggestive but hardly graphic piece of prose, which might titillate adolescent libidos, but probably not as much as a typical Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue 10 SEPTEMBER 17, 1993
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