August 1 brought a thrilling result, the overthrow of the creationist majority on the Kansas Board of Education. Unfortunately, there remain two races where creationists won and where we need to take the seat in the general election.
The picture above shows 4 of the 5 Democrats in the race. Two are working to unseat the remaining creationists on the Board (Don Weiss, right and Jack Wempe, who had yet to file when this picture was taken at the Kansas Democrats Washington Days), two who will be having serious, thoughtful debates about education with the moderate winners (Kent Runyan, left, and Tim Cruz, center-right), and one running unopposed (Janet Waugh, center-left).
Click through to find out more about the last two candidates running against creationists.
First, Don Weiss, shown campaigning at a Take Back Kansas rally. Don is a long-time supporter of TfK and a great guy. He’s running in suburban Kansas City, a hotbed of Kansas’ Main Street Republicanism, as well as home to one of the driving forces in the more modern religious conservatism. Incumbent John Bacon tapped into the latter group to win, while Harry McDonald (past president of Kansas Citizens for Science) lost when the former group split between him and a clueless spoiler. Don is a dean and teaches at the Keller Graduate School of Management in Kansas City.
He’s been endorsed by all the major pro-education PACs in Kansas, and has been working hard to oust the man who said of the Big Bang and scientists who wanted in included in the 1999 standards: “I can’t understand what they’re squealing about, I wasn’t here, and neither were they.” Harry McDonald, upon losing the Republican primary, immediately threw his support behind Don Weiss, the Democrat in the general election. Expect a tight race for that seat. With no exciting races at the top of the ticket, it’ll be easy for conservative groups to bus voters in from churches and sneak Bacon back onto the Board. Your help with this race now will ensure that an adequate Get Out The Vote effort exists to counteract that advantage.
In north-central Kansas, Jack Wempe is running to replace Ken Willard. Wempe was slow to put a webpage online, as was Donna Viola – who lost the primary. He appears chastened by her example, and is rolling out a big team of supporters throughout the 7th district.
Donna Viola has described herself as a “traditional Republican,” but she has joined the campaign of Democrat Jack Wempe, Lyons, for the State Board of Education’s 7th District seat.
On Monday, Wempe announced his campaign team. In his press release, he noted that he made “a strong attempt to create a bipartisan campaign committee with Democrats and Republicans represented in approximated equal numbers.” …
Serving as co-chairmen for Wempe are Beverly Ooley, a Democrat and former Rice County commissioner, and Joan Davison, Republican and former Rice County clerk.
In Reno County, Wempe’s contacts are Democrat Duane Anstine and two registered Republicans — Ken Peirce and Shari McCabe. …
Regarding his enlistment of Republicans backers, Wempe said that aside from political reasons — there are more Republicans than Democrats in the 7th District — he sees the state school board job as “a very nonpartisan position.”
Which is exactly right. The schools shouldn’t be battlegrounds in culture wars or partisan squabbles. The creationist majority has used them for exactly that purpose, and Jack Wempe is to be congratulated for stepping up to bring it back to the mainstream.
He comes to the race with a tremendous range of experience, from 20 years as a teacher and school administrator, including seven as superintendent of his system. He served eight years in the Kansas House, and was appointed to the Kansas Board of Regents, where he was a Vice-Chairman and a Chairman.
His opponent, Ken Willard, when challenged on his claim that transitional fossils don’t exist (around the time that Tikaalik was discovered) replied “I’m not a biologist.”
Willard will roll out the same religious groups, and will unleash heavy fundraising, and then radio, print and TV ads against Wempe. Help him fight back.
These two races are key for taking back the Board of Education from creationists and cementing the moderate grasp on it. But I’d like to remind everyone that Tim Cruz and Kent Runyan are truly great candidates. Don’t ignore them when you write your checks.
Update: Minor biographical correction.