Kansans Vote for Board of Education

Wednesday, August 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Sending a strong signal in the debate over how to teach about the origin of life, voters chose three candidates for the Kansas Board of Education who promised to back science standards with a greater emphasis on evolution.

Two incumbents and another candidate who support the state's current standards that play down the importance of evolution were defeated in Republican primaries Tuesday. The lone incumbent survivor, Steve Abrams, helped write the standards.

The elections pave the way for a potential reversal of the board's 6-4 vote last year that put the standards in place. In the Nov. 7 election, the four primary winners will face Democrats who also want to scrap the guidelines.

``I think it's a foregone conclusion that we get a new set of science standards in January,'' said Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who voted against the standards.

Wagnon did not have a contested primary but will face Patrick Hill, a Topeka Republican who supports the standards. Five of the 10 board seats will be filled in November.

The standards, which school districts do not have to follow, omit the big-bang theory of the universe's origin. They also provide the basis for statewide student assessment tests to be introduced next spring.

Critics argued that the move makes the state look backward, but proponents said it lets local school districts decide what to teach. Some of those who have attacked the teaching of evolution believe in creationism.

Linda Holloway, who supported the new standards as board chairwoman last year and spent thousands in her re-election campaign, lost Tuesday to Sue Gamble, 60 percent to 40 percent. Holloway said she was surprised and blamed her loss on weeks of criticism about the board's decision.

``Unfortunately, I guess propaganda still works,'' she said.

Gamble saw her nomination as a rejection of the standards: ``I think it's a validation of parents and other community people speaking for their schools and quality education.''

Incumbent Mary Douglass Brown was defeated by Carol Rupe, 52 percent to 48 percent, and moderate Bruce Wyatt beat conservative Brad Angell, 58 percent to 42 percent. Wyatt won a seat vacated by a member who voted for the standards.

Abrams defeated Roger Rankin, 62 percent to 38 percent.

It was the first time voters got a chance to decide whether the standards approved last year should cost board members their jobs. Holloway, Abrams and Brown, conservatives who voted for the standards, were challenged by moderates who opposed the decision.

The theory of evolution, developed by Charles Darwin and others, holds that the Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over hundreds of millions of years.

Creationism maintains that evolution cannot be proven and that the Earth and most life forms came into existence suddenly about 6,000 years ago, largely as described in the Bible.

Debate over the issue has heated up in other states. Efforts have included attempts to delete evolution from science standards and tests, and including a disclaimer in textbooks playing down the importance of the theory.

Kansas delegates at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia offered differing opinions on Tuesday's votes. Dwight Sutherland Jr., a conservative Mission Hills attorney, said board members who supported the standards had been demonized.

``The moderates successfully worked and got opinion — ill-informed as it was — against the incumbents,'' he said.

Another delegate, state Senate President Dick Bond of Overland Park, said Kansans ``wanted to stop the bleeding.''

``There's been so much embarrassment for most Kansans that it finally gave them an awareness of the importance of those seats,'' he said.

The issue drew international attention and generated unprecedented campaign contributions. It also created rifts in the Kansas Republican Party by becoming the new litmus test of whether someone is conservative or moderate.

In the state's lone congressional primary, moderate Greg Musil criticized the board's decision in radio and TV ads. His conservative opponents, including state Rep. Phill Kline, did not make evolution a campaign issue.

Musil's strategy didn't work against Kline's promises to fight for tax cuts, however. Kline defeated Musil 50 percent to 37 percent. Gary Morsch, a political newcomer, had 13 percent.

Kline will face first-term Rep. Dennis Moore, the state's only Democratic congressman, in November.


On the Net:

National Center of Science Education: http://www.natcenscied.org

Institute for Creation Research: http://www.icr.org