Moderates take aim at remaining conservatives on state education board

? With the August primary election it became clear that moderates will control the State Board of Education next year, but just barely.

So, opponents of the board’s remaining conservative incumbents aim to increase their numbers in the November general election.

“We would like to strengthen and solidify the moderate majority on the board,” Don Hineman, chairman of the Kansas Alliance for Education, said Thursday.

The political action committee worked during the primary campaigns to remove conservatives from power on the board.

Based on the election results Aug. 1, the conservative 6-4 majority will be reversed to a 6-4 moderate majority when a new board takes office in January.

The current conservative 6-4 majority approved science standards that criticize evolution and sex education standards that make it more difficult for students to take sex ed, and hired Bob Corkins as education commissioner though he had no background in education.

Moderates say they intend to revisit all those issues when the new board is seated.

Five seats were challenged in the primaries, which, because of debates about evolution, drew international attention.

In the Republican Party primary, conservative Connie Morris, of St. Francis, was defeated by moderate Sally Cauble, of Liberal, and moderate Jana Shaver, of Independence, won in southeast Kansas over conservative Brad Patzer, the son-in-law of conservative Iris Van Meter, who didn’t seek re-election.

In the Democratic Party primary, moderate incumbent Janet Waugh, of Kansas City, Kan., defeated conservative challenger Jesse Hall.

Conservatives Ken Willard, of Hutchinson, and John Bacon, of Olathe, survived their primaries but face Democrats in the Nov. 7 general election.

Hineman said it would be best for moderates to try to increase their numbers in the general election, too.

The bipartisan alliance has targeted two races, endorsing Democrat Jack Wempe, of Lyons, against Willard and Democrat Don Weiss, of Olathe, against Bacon. The alliance will not get involved in election match-ups that pit Shaver against Democrat Charles Kent Runyan or Cauble against Democrat Tim Cruz because, Hineman said, whoever wins those races will provide a moderate perspective to the board.

In two years, Hineman said, five board seats, including three held by moderates, will be up for grabs, so he would like to pad what will be at least a 6-4 moderate majority in hopes a majority can be held through the 2008 election.

“Those seats will be challenged by the conservatives so we want to do what we can now to increase our numbers,” Hineman said.

But Cindy Duckett, a conservative activist from Wichita, predicted Bacon and Willard would withstand the challenges.

“I think John and Ken are really secure,” Duckett said.

She said the GOP primary didn’t represent an anti-conservative swing.

Morris was weakened by charges of exorbitant travel expenses, while Van Meter’s district had no incumbent, she said.

“I’m not sure it is a backlash against conservatives. The primary elections were really about competence,” she said.

And she predicted that in 2008, conservatives will retake the board.

“The pendulum will swing in two years,” she said.

Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, said moderates will have a tough time toppling Willard and Bacon in the general election because much of the attention on the Board of Education races has subsided.

“The national attention is certainly off, so that will not be as big of a campaign factor,” Beatty said.

During the primaries, the challengers framed the debate as a board in crisis that needed to be “retaken,” he said.

“Now it is retaken,” he said, and it will be more difficult to drum up interest in the campaigns.