A prominent Christian conservative has lost his seat on the state education board, a loss that weakens the board's powerful social conservative bloc.
Republican board member Don McLeroy lost his seat to challenger Thomas Ratliff, viewed as a moderate, on the board that shapes what millions of students read in textbooks. The 15-member board has unusual clout because textbook publishers have few clients bigger than Texas.
But social conservatives claimed a key early victory in another race Tuesday. Ken Mercer soundly beat Austin attorney Tim Tuggey to survive his GOP primary challenge, and will face Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau in the November general election.
Mercer had 69 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting. He called his victory a clear sign to "elitist groups" who viewed the race as a chance to purge the board of some of its most far-right members.
"I hope we can keep our conservative posture," Mercer said. "It's not anybody's ideology. It's just keeping the promises we made."
Another social conservative challenger, Brian Russell, forced an April runoff with educator Marsha Farney. They will vie for the District 10 seat of outgoing board member Cynthia Dunbar, who drew the most attention in her single, four-year term by writing that public schools were a "subtly deceptive tool of perversion."
Dunbar is another of the seven conservative Christians currently on the board who have secured majorities when picking up votes from one of three other Republicans or five Democrats.
One of the board's moderate Republicans fell in an upset. Geraldine Miller, who had served as the District 12 member since 1994, lost to George Clayton, a Dallas English teacher. With all precincts reporting, Clayton had 52 percent of the vote over Miller, one-time board chairwoman.
The elections were the first since the board tackled evolution curriculum in 2008. During that heated debate, which ultimately led lawmakers to oust McLeroy as chairman, the board decided Texas schools would no longer have to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. Teachers still would be encouraged to consider "all sides" of scientific theories.
Earlier this year, the board debated social studies curriculum and argued about whether figures such as human-rights activist Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, had contributed enough to American society to be included.
McLeroy defended the District 9 seat he has held since 1998 against Ratliff, who criticized McLeroy for being too far right.
"We're not too far any which way," said McLeroy, a Bryan dentist. "It's in the middle. We're in good, clear thinking to help with our schools."
Ratliff, the son of former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, is among a group of GOP challengers viewed as less partisan on culture-war issues than their incumbent opponents.
Democrats Rene Nunez and Lawrence Allen Jr. are the two Democratic incumbents running for re-election, though Allen is unopposed in both the primary and general election and will serve a second four-year term.
No Democrats filed to run for McLeroy's seat in the November general election.