Topeka A conservative State Board of Education member was locked in a tight race Tuesday night that could determine whether moderates will have an even stronger majority in ending the reign of conservatives who pushed anti-evolution standards back into Kansas schools.
In the 7th District, Republican Ken Willard, of Hutchinson, led 51 percent to 49 percent over Democrat Jack Wempe, of Lyons, with 90 percent of precincts reporting.
Moderates gained a 6-4 majority after the Aug. 1 primary, but that could jump to 7-3 if Willard loses.
In the 9th District, moderate Republican Jan Shaver, of Independence, led 55 percent to 45 percent for Democrat Charles Kent Runyan, of Pittsburg, with 79 percent of precincts reporting.
With 83 percent of precincts reporting in the 5th District, moderate Republican Sally Cauble, of Liberal, had 64 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Tim Cruz, a former Garden City mayor. Cauble defeated conservative incumbent Connie Morris, of St. Francis, in the August primary.
Meanwhile, incumbent conservative Republican John Bacon won re-election in the 3rd District, with 56 percent of the vote compared with 44 percent for Democrat Don Weiss. Both men are from Olathe.
Democratic board member Janet Waugh, of Kansas City, was unopposed.
The winners joined five members not on the ballot this year: moderate Republicans Sue Gamble, of Shawnee, and Carol Rupe, of Wichita; Democrat Bill Wagnon, of Topeka; as well as conservative Republicans Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, and Kathy Martin, of Clay Center.
Last year, the board's 6-4 conservative majority endorsed science testing standards that critics say promote intelligent design, which they view as warmed-over creationism. Proponents say the standards encourage an open discussion of evolution and its flaws.
Control of the board has changed between the two factions since 1998, resulting in anti-evolution standards for student testing in 1999, evolution-friendly ones in 2001 and anti-evolution ones in 2005.
The anti-evolution standards made Kansas the punchline for countless jokes, portraying the state as ignorant and backward.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius wants to strip the board of most of its duties, reducing it to an advisory panel with most of the power vested in an appointed secretary of education. The state had an elected superintendent of public instruction until 1969.
Evolution won't be the only issue on the minds of moderates when they take control in January.
They likely will dump Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, who was hired by conservatives last year.
He lacked any experience as a school administrator, supports charter schools and vouchers and opposed increased school funding when he operated a conservative think tank.
Another issue for the new board is sex education. In March, the board required local districts to get permission from parents before teaching children sex education. Most districts had assumed a child would participate unless a parent objected.