Controversial Former Teacher Loses in Texas Board of Ed Race

(Photo: Inside Texas Politics)

(Photo: Inside Texas Politics)

A Texas Board of Education candidate who claimed that President Obama was a gay prostitute and believes dinosaurs walked the Earth alongside humans lost in a runoff election this week after nearly winning outright two months ago.

Mary Lou Bruner, a 69-year-old former teacher, was the leading candidate for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education, which sets curriculum and textbook standards for more than 5 million school children. This week, voters, fearful of the conspiracy theories she peddled and her fringe political screeds, rejected her candidacy.

Instead, they opted for Keven Ellis, a Republican-leaning local school board president who ran a mainstream campaign. Ellis becomes the automatic favorite to win in November against the Democratic nominee, a professor at Stephen F. Austin University, in the heavily conservative East Texas district.

According to ABC News, Bruner trafficked in conspiracy theories that suggested Democrats killed John F. Kennedy, climate change is a hoax concocted by Karl Marx, and that Obamacare intends to wipe out 200 million people from the U.S. population. She also wrote that a biblical flood wiped out dinosaurs rather than the meteor theory devised by atheists. Many of Bruner’s controversial social media posts were several years old, but they provided potent fodder in her opponents’ efforts to defeat her.

“Texas escaped an education train wreck tonight,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “If Bruner had ultimately won election to the board, she would have instantly become the most embarrassingly uninformed and divisive member on a board that already too often puts politics ahead of making sure our kids get a sound education.”

Curriculum battles on the Texas Board of Education are closely watched; Democratic-leaning and liberal groups argue that the state’s textbook buying power gives the Board an undue influence in determining the material taught in classrooms across the United States.

Zack Kopplin, an editorialist at Slate, notes that Bruner would have likely pushed to change the way textbooks present information on slavery, the Reconstruction period, and the debate over reparations for African-Americans. “The blacks were given land and a mule, which were usually confiscated from the plantation owners’ land,” Bruner wrote in an argument against reparations. She has also made inflammatory statements about feminism, gay rights, and immigration.

In March, Bruner came within two percentage points of avoiding a runoff election altogether. Ultimately, Republican voters sided with Ellis, who refused to criticize Bruner for her statements, which would potentially alienate some of her supporters. Instead, according to Paul Weber of US News, Ellis focused on thanking her for her career as a teacher.

Bruner’s election would have stunned the education world. Despite the fact that the Texas State Board of Education had been chaired until 2011 by a creationist who tried to weaken evolution lessons in science classrooms, educators and policymakers likely would have regarded Bruner as grossly inappropriate to oversee education development.

The 15-member Texas panel is set to take up major revisions in science and social studies curriculum in 2017.