Shawnee Evolution has highlighted differences between Linda Holloway and Sue Gamble in their Republican primary race for a seat on the Kansas State Board of Education.
Holloway was chairwoman of the board last year when it approved science testing standards that de-emphasize the importance of evolution, and she is a vocal defender of that decision.
Gamble, a member of the Shawnee Mission school board since 1987, fears the decision will deprive Kansas students of a quality science education.
However, the two candidates also have a few things in common. Both are Shawnee residents, and both share a deep interest in helping students with learning disabilities.
They are running in the 2nd District, which includes the Kansas City, Mo., suburbs across the state line in eastern Johnson County. Their race is one of four contested GOP primaries Tuesday, and five of the board's 10 seats will be filled in the Nov. 7 general election.
The BOE seat that represents Lawrence is not being contested again until 2002.
Holloway, 50, started teaching students with learning disabilities in 1976 in Blue Springs, Mo. She started her teaching career five years earlier in Kansas City, Mo., but felt she could have a greater effect by switching to special education and its smaller classrooms.
The job proved difficult in many respects. By afternoon, students with brain damage sometimes forgot what they had learned that morning.
Holloway also had to improvise to help students learn. For an art class, she attached a marker to a helmet for a student who had little use of his hands.
She also had to cope with the death of a student with muscular dystrophy. As Holloway recalled the event, tears filled her eyes.
Despite such challenges, Holloway never regretted her decision to teach special education classes throughout much of her career, which ended in 1997 because she wanted to focus on her board duties.
"You know when you've touched some kids," Holloway said during an interview at a local bagel shop. "That was always fun to see those kids who would push and push."
Gamble, 58, has an even more personal experience with learning disabilities. As a student, she would reverse numbers when working on math problems.
On multiple choice tests, the rows of possible answers would become a blur. The problem was so severe that Gamble scored zero on a true and false test.
In high school, a guidance counselor told Gamble to abandon any thought of a career and concentrate on finding a husband.
"I really thought I was just stupid," Gamble said while taking a break from mailing postcards at her campaign headquarters in Overland Park.
When Gamble was a student at Johnson County Community College in her late 20s, a sociology professor recognized that she had a learning disability.
Gamble uses calculators and computer spreadsheets when she has to do math computations in her career as a real estate agent.
She decided she wanted to serve on her local school board after becoming frustrated with the lack of programs for her two daughters. One daughter had a learning disability and the other one was gifted.
"It was a constant struggle of how you make both kids successful," Gamble said.
She was appointed to the Shawnee Mission school board in 1987 and has been re-elected four times.
Holloway got her first taste of politics in 1994, when she made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for the seat held by state Rep. Phill Kline, of Shawnee.
The experience taught her how to run a campaign, Holloway said, and she was elected to the State Board of Education in 1996.
The approval of new science standards has brought unprecedented attention to board races, particularly the Holloway-Gamble contest. The ideological makeup of the board and the future of the standards, which passed on a 6-4 vote, are in the balance.
It also has generated record campaign contributions. Holloway reported more than $74,000 in cash contributions this year and loaned herself $15,000, while Gamble reported raising about $35,000.
Holloway, who says the science standards allow local school districts to decide what to teach about the origins of life, has spent $35,000 on television ads to defend her vote.
The criticism following the vote and the failing health of her father, who died in March, made her seriously consider not running for re-election.
At the urging of her husband, Jerry, Holloway decided to run again.
"If he didn't want me to run, I would have not run," Holloway said.
Gamble, who would vote to reverse the board's decision if elected, said evolution isn't a "driving force" for her. However, Gamble said she mentions the board's decision when she campaigns door-to-door because people are familiar with the issue.
"It's much, much more than evolution, but evolution captures everybody's attention," Gamble said.