Topeka — Republican primaries in four State Board of Education districts feature candidates who disagree about state science standards that de-emphasize evolution.
However, the 2nd District race in Johnson County is getting the most attention and is the race most worth watching.
The reasons include the visibility and outspokenness of its Republican incumbent, Linda Holloway of Shawnee, who was the board's chairwoman when it approved the science standards last year.
But other factors are at work as well, including a contested primary in the congressional district that includes the state's portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
"It's going to get national attention," said Burdett Loomis, a Kansas University political scientist.
The board adopted the new science standards in August 1999 on a 6-4 vote. Its action brought the state national and even international attention, much of it negative.
The standards replaced older ones that were vague in spelling out what Kansas high school students should know before they graduate. The new standards are being used in drafting tests that students will take starting next year.
The standards cover "microevolution," the theory that species adapt to their environments over time to develop traits that help them survive.
But they do not include "macroevolution," the theory that different species apes and man, for example can evolve from a common ancestor. Also missing is the big bang, the theory that the universe began with the explosion of a superdense atom.
Critics of the new standards say they will hurt science education. Supporters like Holloway said the state board only left the decision of what to teach about evolution and the origin of the universe to local boards of education.
Evolution decision fallout
Three Republicans on the state board who voted for the new science standards are seeking re-election. They are Holloway; Mary Douglass Brown, of Wichita; and Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City.
Each faces an opponent who is critical of the standards, and there's also a Republican primary for the seat held by Scott Hill, an Abilene ranch owner who supported the new science standards but is not seeking re-election.
Holloway's rival for the GOP nomination is Sue Gamble, who has served on the Shawnee Mission school board in Johnson County for 13 years.
"I think that one will be the most entertaining to watch," Hill said. "That's where the most money will be spent. It started early."
Holloway is a natural target for moderate Republicans who are critical of the state science standards. She was the board's chairwoman when the standards were adopted, and that role led her to become the standards' most vocal supporter.
"Ever since last summer, people have been watching," said Kris Van Meteren, executive director of the conservative Kansas Republican Assembly.
To be sure, Brown's race in the 8th District in Wichita has some of the same characteristics. There's the same concentration of print and broadcast news outlets that can keep attention focused on the race, for example.
But outsiders to the evolution debate have made Holloway's race more unusual than those for Abrams and Brown.
Conservative vs. moderate
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback endorsed Holloway. The senator said he was becoming involved because Holloway is a friend, but Brownback is a conservative, and political activists and others saw his endorsement in that context.
Holloway's race also has achieved higher visibility because of the campaign of Greg Musil, the moderate Overland Park City Council president seeking the GOP nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.
Even though Congress has no role in the debate over the science standards, Musil has made the standards a key issue in his campaign. He has endorsed Gamble and has emphasized his opposition to the science standards in both radio and television advertisements.
Musil's pitch is designed to mobilize moderate Republicans. He's also hoping to get parents in Johnson County's affluent Shawnee Mission school district to the polls on his behalf.
"The overlap with the 3rd District race means the issues are getting discussed more," Loomis said.
Races for Board of Education seats this year will determine whether conservative Republicans or a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats control education policy. Five of 10 seats will be filled in the Nov. 7 general election.
But the Aug. 1 Republican primaries will be especially crucial in four districts.
Holloway's visibility and the involvement of outsiders to the evolution debate make hers the race to watch.
"I think all the other races are low key in comparison," Hill said.