May 28, 2009
AUSTIN – The Texas Senate ousted Don McLeroy as chairman of the State Board of Education on Thursday. Supporters of the Bryan dentist claimed McLeroy was punished for his strong religious beliefs.
McLeroy is a devout Christian who believes in creationism and the notion that the Earth is about 6,000 years old.
His opponents portrayed McLeroy as “a decent human being” lacking leadership skills to chair the board divided between social conservatives and others.
“He has enthusiastically embraced his role in the endless cultural wars,” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said.
But opponents emphasized that it was not McLeroy’s religious beliefs that made him unworthy to lead the 15-member State Board of Education.
“It’s not about evolution versus creationism, and it’s not about Democrats versus Republicans,” Watson told his colleagues. “This is not about partisanship. Please forget all the shouting and protests about this nomination from day one. This is about his leadership as chairman.”
McLeroy’s hometown senator, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, defended the controversial chairman.
“His service has not been incompetent, illegal or out of bounds,” Ogden said.
“I think Texas is watching here because I think, whether intentional or not, there will be a perception … that we are applying a religious test for serving in this state,” Ogden said.
“If this isn’t about evolution, if this isn’t about what the Bible teaches, what is it all about?” Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, asked.
Democrats argued that McLeroy’s leadership polarized the board, and that he disregarded experts in the shaping of science curriculum standards and English, language arts and reading standards for 4.7 million Texas public school children.
“The state board has become increasingly divided and deeply dysfunctional and almost paralyzed to action at certain times,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said.
Senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointments requires a two-thirds vote. McLeroy won the support of all 19 Senate Republicans, but 11 Democrats voted against him. It takes 11 votes to block an appointment. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, was present but did not vote.
The Senate seldom rejects gubernatorial appointments. The Senate’s blocking of McLeroy will force Gov. Rick Perry to appoint a new board leader. McLeroy will keep his spot as a board member.