More than 100,000 East Texas Republicans from College Station to Paris voted in March to give authority over Texas’ public school curriculum to Mary Lou Bruner, a retired teacher who has said that President Obama was once a prostitute and blamed school shootings on the teaching of evolution. Bruner has suggested that Democratic Party leaders killed JFK, that global warming is a “hoax,” and that the United States should “ban Islam and stop all immigration.”
Bruner’s campaign has already returned the State Board of Education to its familiar place, up on a tee for easy jokes at Texas’ expense, and should she win her runoff election in May — which is likely — there it will stay for at least four more years. Departing board member Thomas Ratliff, whose seat Bruner would fill, told the Dallas Morning News she would be a “human rain delay.” Her ascendance to the board would signal that the last few years of relative calm have been not progress but an aberration, and that the board had returned to its natural state of chaos.
Count Don McLeroy among those looking forward to it.
His dozen years on the board are the reason it has acquired a reputation for relitigating whether humans walked with dinosaurs. His time as chairman was driven by a mission to sow doubt about the theory of evolution and emphasize “traditional education” such as phonics and country music over whole language instruction and rap. And his ouster by Ratliff in 2010 ushered in the cooling-off period the board has since enjoyed.
In the three-way primary race to replace Ratliff, McLeroy told the Observer he’d been rooting for Bruner and local GOP activist Hank Hering. “They’re two Don McLeroys, really,” he said. Bruner will face Lufkin ISD board president Keven Ellis in the runoff, and is likely to draw most of Hering’s voters to her side.
“I think she’ll be a great asset,” McLeroy said. “She testified all the time when I was on the board.”
In 2010, for instance, before the board passed a resolution denouncing “pro-Islam” bias in proposed textbooks, Bruner went to Austin and worried aloud that “Middle Easterners” are “using their influence to get what they want in the textbooks.” After all, she said, “they’re buying everything else here.”
Those comments came during an exchange with Dallas Democrat Lawrence Allen, who may be the only practicing Muslim in elected office in Austin.
McLeroy said he believes Bruner “will do an awesome job” on the board, particularly in reasserting its authority after the Legislature spent years reining it in, and in advocating for “good, traditional education.” Bruner has lamented that children aren’t required to write in cursive. “The songs that they sing in the rap music,” she told a radio show during her campaign, “it’s not correct grammar.”
McLeroy’s advice to Bruner is to be “circumspect” in what she says and writes. “Back when I was on the board there were no tweets by Don McLeroy,” he said. “There’s so much more that you can find about people today than there was back then.”
Indeed, the most inflammatory of Bruner’s remarks came from her Facebook page, which Texas Freedom Network publicized before her primary election.
While much of the nation recoiled at those Facebook posts, Bruner was able to appeal directly to GOP primary voters through grassroots outlets like Alice Linahan’s “Women on the Wall” radio show and George Stephenson’s “Wake Up We The People” podcast. On those, Bruner shared her vision of “back to basics” education and didn’t say much at all about how, precisely, you’d fit a load of dinosaurs on an ark.
“These are massive districts, so it takes a lot of money to get known. And state board races don’t get a lot of money,” says Texas Freedom Network Communications Director Dan Quinn. “The way that those races seem to run is there are certain tea party folks and social conservative groups, email lists, they use all of that to promote whoever their favorite candidate is.” Indeed, Donna Garner, a conservative education blogger near Waco (she once organized a boycott of Dr Pepper because it released soda cans declaring “One Nation … Indivisible,” without the words “Under God”) has alerted her following that “Texas public school students, parents, and teachers badly need Mary Lou Bruner on the SBOE.”
Bruner may have deleted most of her own inflammatory posts, but she hasn’t lost her flair for social media — in late February she publicly posted a note to a reporter with whom she’d been arguing about geology: “You are very naive,” she wrote, “if you believe a tiny river carved out the Grand Canyon.”