Election may create new challenge to evolution

State Board of Education's moderate majority at stake

evolution in Kansas timeline

August 1999 – State Board of Education votes 6-4 to adopt science standards that eliminate most references to evolution.

August 2000 – Republican Party primary voters oust three anti-evolution board members.

February 2001 – New board votes 7-3 for science standards that include evolution.

August 2002 – Conservatives Connie Morris of St. Francis and Iris Van Meter of Thayer defeat two moderate Republican incumbents. This produces a 5-5 split on the board.

August 2004 – Conservative Kathy Martin of Clay Center defeats moderate Bruce Wyatt of Salina in the GOP primary.

January 2005 – Martin sworn into office, giving conservatives a 6-4 majority.

November 2005 – In a 6-4 vote, board approves science standards critical of evolution.

August 2006 – Morris defeated by moderate Republican Sally Cauble of Liberal and Van Meter, who did not seek re-election, replaced by moderate Republican Jana Shaver of Independence, giving moderates a 6-4 advantage.

February 2007 – Board votes 6-4 to reverse anti-evolution science standards.

In the State Board of Education races, simple math could start another round in the long-running fight in Kansas about evolution.

Five seats on the 10-member board are up for election this year, and of those, three are held by moderates who are not seeking re-election.

Moderates now hold a 6-4 advantage over social conservatives on the board, so flipping one of those moderate seats to a conservative would create a 5-5 tie.

Flipping two moderate seats would produce a conservative majority and could renew the battle against evolution that has brought attention to Kansas several times during the past decade.

Of course, moderates could hold on to their current seats and maybe gain one or both of the two conservative seats up for grabs. But advocates for the pro-evolution science standards and more easily accessible sex education don’t think that’s probable.

“I’m a little nervous about whether we will keep a moderate majority on the board,” said Kathy Cook, executive director of Kansas Families for Education.

Here’s the lineup for the Aug. 5 primary.

District 2

Moderate Republican Sue Gamble of Shawnee has decided to seek election to the state Senate. That has produced a race for an open seat featuring a Republican Party primary contest between Brandon Kenig and Mary Ralstin, both of Shawnee.

Kenig, a recent college graduate, has been endorsed by the conservative Kansas Republican Assembly. Ralstin, who has been involved for a number of years with the PTA, has been endorsed by the Kansas National Education Association.

Both candidates have said they support the current policy of teaching evolution in science classes.

The winner will face moderate Democrat Sue Storm, of Overland Park, in the Nov. 4 general election. Storm, a longtime House member, has also been endorsed by the KNEA.

District 4

In District 4, which includes Lawrence, another open seat race exists because moderate Democrat Bill Wagnon of Topeka will not seek re-election.

Republicans Alan Detrich of Lawrence and Robert Meissner of Topeka face each other in the Aug. 5 primary.

In 2004, Meissner almost won the same seat, while campaigning that he was willing to add intelligent design to science standards.

In response to a questionnaire from the Journal-World, Meissner wrote that he supported the teaching of evolution, but added, “As stated in the past, if the science community can come to a consensus as to the scientific credibility of alternative theories as to origin, then I would be open to, at least, discussing the possible inclusion of those scientifically credible theories.”

Detrich is an artist who produces sculptures that combine religious and dinosaur themes. His Web site, www.spearofjesus.com, includes comments that say “evil-utionist=ape-iest=malarki-ologist.”

Meissner has the KRA endorsement.

The winner will go against moderate Democrat Carolyn Campbell of Topeka, who has been endorsed by the KNEA.

District 6

In District 6, incumbent conservative Kathy Martin of Clay Center is seeking re-election. She faces a challenger in the GOP primary from Bill Pannbacker of Washington. Democrat Christopher Renner of Manhattan awaits the Republican winner.

Martin, a solid vote for the conservatives, has won the KRA endorsement, while Pannbacker and Renner have been recommended by the KNEA.

District 8

In District 8, another moderate Republican, Carol Rupe of Wichita, is not seeking re-election. Republican Dennis Hedke and Democrat Walt Chappell, both of Wichita, will face off in the November general election.

Recently, Hedke helped with Americans for Prosperity’s tour concerning “global warming alarmism.” The KRA has endorsed Hedke, while the KNEA hasn’t made an endorsement in that district.

District 10

In District 10, conservative Republican Steve Abrams of Arkansas City is running for the state Senate. That has left an open seat race in the GOP primary between David Dennis and Marty Marshall, both of Wichita. But Marshall has said he has decided not to campaign and supports Dennis.

Dennis has described himself as a “very strong Catholic” but says that he supports teaching evolution. The winner faces Democrat Paul Casanova, of Andover, who also said he supported the current standards.

Marshall had the support of the KRA while the KNEA recommended both Dennis and Casanova.

Based on comments from some of candidates, it would seem that the science standards supporting evolution should be safe, at least until the next election cycle, in 2010.

But Cook said what candidates say now and what they do later could change. “The conservatives have downplayed that issue,” Cook has said in recent campaign forums.