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Education Reporter

Pro-family Candidates Win SBOE Elections

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Seats on state boards of education were up for grabs in last month's elections, and pro-family forces in Ohio, Texas, and Nebraska have reason to celebrate. Ohio SBOE member Diana Fessler was reelected after being targeted for defeat for her stand against School-to-Work (STW). Last June, she was prevented from attending a taxpayer-funded STW conference (See Education Reporter, Sept. 1998). When the ballots were counted, Fessler received nearly double the number of votes, or 49%, as her nearest opponent, who received 27%, in the three-way race. The third candidate garnered 23% of the vote.

Observers claim that one of Fessler's opponents "waged a smear campaign" against her, and that the press was similarly biased. An editorial in the Dayton Daily News characterized her as "too narrow minded towards academics only and against School-to-Work." Ohio voters gave Mrs. Fessler the green light to continue standing tall for traditional education in their state.

In Texas, conservatives increased their strength on the SBOE by retaining two seats that were up for reelection and gaining another seat with the victory of pro-family candidate, Judy Strickland. She won a tough primary election in August, prevailing over an education bureaucrat who was widely reported to have the seat "sewn up." Strickland ran unopposed in the general election. Don McLeroy, a local board of education member from Bryan, Texas, won outgoing pro-family SBOE member Randy Stephenson's seat, keeping it in the conservative column, and pro-family board member Richard Watson was reelected.

Throughout the Texas campaign, pro-family candidates were portrayed by their opponents as "foes of public education," and voters were warned that they would "turn the board into a pulpit for ideological extremists." But as education researcher Stephanie Cecil points out, Texas voters did not respond to the rhetoric as predicted. "The new board members will be strong supporters of academic-based reform, including phonics-based reading, academic curricula and testing, parents' rights, and they'll be good stewards of the $18 billion permanent school fund that recently divested millions of dollars of Disney stock" (See Education Reporter, Sept. 1998).

Pro-family forces in Texas agree that the SBOE elections "produced a very big win." They note that conservatives are gaining ground on the state board and becoming more experienced at governing. They say the new members "will not rubber-stamp the plans of the bureaucracy."

In Nebraska, Kathy Wilmot was elected to the SBOE with 59% of the vote to her opponent's 41%. She reports that during the primary campaign, the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) contributed a total of $17,000 in cash and in-kind services to three candidates who ran against her. When she won the primary in spite of this heavy opposition, the NSEA opposed her in the general election. They provided the bulk of her opponent's support, and ran a phone bank on his behalf thoughout the 29 counties of her district (which encompasses most of western Nebraska).

Wilmot credits her win to God and to "dedicated grassroots individuals who are totally committed to our country and to preserving its foundations."

In addition to successes on state boards of education, pro-family candidates were also victorious in many local and county board races around the country. Lezlie Porter won a seat on the Washoe County Board of Education in Nevada.

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