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ASSNODs OF GOD miciamd MA.8;61M t010fti:000 Mil IvAby 5usely mmtliplk-sw WM IV Republican state Senator Bill Ratliff. The chair of the Senate Finance Committee is an economic conservative who usually gets along with the Christian right. But like most Republicans in the Legislature, Ratliff has lost patience with the often bizarre behavior of the board. And he was willing to spend some of his own money to do something about it. “It seems to me that some of those other board members ought to be able to read the tea leaves and understand that if [Offute s defeat] doesn’t send a message, there may be other messages,” Ratliff told Alberta Phillips Brooks of the Austin American-Statesman. Offutt wasn’t the only Christian casualty to receive a message. Radical right homeschooler Bob Schoolfield, awash in his own money, was forced into a runoff by retired Round Rock schoolteacher Cynthia Thornton. Schoolfield is the Christian right’s anointed candidate, so Thornton can now be expected to find friends and financial supporters she never knew she had until she forced Schoolfield into a runoff for the open seat on the state Board of Ed. The moderate wave also washed over legislative races, where three candidates backed by the far-right FreePAC, funded by Dallas millionaire Robert Ford, also lost. FreePAC contributed more than $15,000 each to candidates who went after Republican incumbents Kim Brimer of Arlington, Brian McCall of Plano, and Dennis Bonnen of Pearland. \(And calling these three “moderate” says a great deal about how far to the right the political cenbeen a player in Republican Party politics for twenty years, first as founder of the Free Market Foundation, which grew out of a Christian business group, then as the director of FreePAC, which he founded in 1985. \(The Austin American-Statesman lists Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and State Board candidate Bob Schoolfield as Ford went after Brimer for a 1993 vote to equalize school funding. McCall made Ford’s hit list when he voted against a political amendment by Tom Craddick concerning a sales taxes. And Bonnen angered Ford with a “moderate” vote on the parental notification bill that passed last session, and currently requires minors seeking abortions to either advise their parents of the abortion or to get a “judicial bypass.” A judicial bypass allows a woman under eighteen years of age to request a judge to waive the parental notification, if the judge can be convinced that notifying parents represents a threat to the minor’s wellbeing. Bonnen voted for a failed amendment that would have allowed a minor seeking an abortion to consult with a member of the clergy instead of a judge. That “soft-on-abortion” vote got Ford’s attention, and he went after Bonnen and his fellow travelers in the House. But Republican voters weren’t buying it, and the “FreePAC Three” were easily defeated. McCall won 70 percent of the vote; Brimer won 55 percent of the vote; and Bonnen prevailed with 54 percent over a candidate he defeated to win the seat in 1997. After a ten-year slump, Ford might have to rethink his overall strategy. In 1992, he supported Houston Republican Representative Talmadge Heflin for Speaker of the House despite the fact that then as now, there was a Democratic majority in the House, that Talmadge wasn’t then and isn’t now the brightest member of the Republican delegation, and that the Republican House Caucus has never been too turned on by the idea of Talmadge Heflin as its leader. Eight years later, all Ford’s candidates lost. And Republicans who used to suffer in silence their challenges from the religious right are suddenly angry and outspoken. “I have refused to be a lap dog of the lobbyist for the Eagle Forum and the Free Enterprise PAC,” McCall said after the election. “This has nothing to do with issues. It has to do with them wanting a candidate they can control.” Bonnen described the FreePACkers as a “far-right movement” whose funders refuse to work with anyone who does not agree with them. So the far right is on the run and Republican electoral politics have become so moderate that Arlene Wohlgemuth who along with Suzanna Gratia Hupp defines the loopy right of the Republican House caucus has renounced her delusional designs on the Speaker’s chair. “There’s a lot of talk about who is going to be the next speaker, but I certainly am not in the running,” Wohlgemuth said. \(In fact, she Call it a win for the Republican Party. Call it a moment of moderation. Call it a setback for the religious right. But it’s a loss for journalists, who would in a heartbeat cast their votes for the quotable excess of an Arlene Wohlgemuth to the prudent political posturing of Tom Craddick the Chair Apparent should the Democrats lose the House. It’s almost enough to make you want to mail a check to FreePAC or to vote Democratic in the general election. L.D. MARCH 31, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5 ‘0,,