The “fuzzy facts” offered by a Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) candidate have been raising the eyebrows of many in this Texas primary run-off race.
The eyes of the nation may be upon East Texas as early voting begins Mon., May 16, in the District 9 Republican primary run-off race for SBOE between controversial frontrunner Mary Lou Bruner and challenger Dr. Keven Ellis. Each vie to fill the seat soon vacated by the outgoing Thomas Ratliff (R-Mt. Pleasant), who held the spot since 201o. A lot is riding on this run-off, most notably, the facts, which for Bruner, appear to be a little fuzzy.
On Saturday, May 14, the Tyler Morning News endorsed Ellis, highlighting both GOP candidates are conservatives but underscored “Bruner has made, and continues to make, untrue statements and bizarre claims. When confronted with her falsehoods and her errors of fact, she doesn’t back down. She either doubles down, or — equally troubling and more commonly, lately — she stops talking to the media and to her would-be constituents.”
Mary Lou Bruner, 68, is the retired Mineola teacher who garnered national attention for her over-the-top Facebook posts that included baby dinosaurs sailing on Noah’s Ark. She claimed the dinosaurs died out after the Great Flood because they were too young to have sex; and that President Obama was a gay male prostitute in his 20’s. Bruner fell just short of crossing the 50 percent line to clinch the Republican nomination in March, forcing this primary run-off with Ellis, 44, a Lufkin chiropractor, father of three, and local school board president.
The Tyler newspaper referenced a May 4 meeting where Bruner asserted a series of incorrect facts that attracted the ire of East Texas school superintendents in attendance. Among her claims, Bruner said Lufkin ISD began the school year with 91 substitutes in place of full-time teachers. The district’s superintendent was there and interjected, “Please don’t go around Texas saying that because it’s blatantly false.” Bruner also said she met with Mineola school officials only Mineola’s superintendent Kim Tunnell stood up and pointed out this did not happen.
Since these discrepancies emerged, the Tyler Morning News said JoAnn Fleming of Grassroots America — We the People, a conservative organization that endorsed Bruner, and their board “was reaching out to” their candidate in light of inaccurate comments. Fleming did not respond to Breitbart Texas’ inquiry on this matter before press time.
Throughout the campaign, Ellis told Breitbart Texas his opponent consistently brands him the “establishment” candidate. This claim is likely because he received endorsements from education establishment types including a former Texas Education Commissioner Mike Moses, retiring state House Public Education Chair Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), the Texas Parents PAC, and the Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT), an affiliate of the second largest teachers’ union, AFT.
Technically, in the semantics game, Bruner, too, has ties to the same so-called “establishment.” She is a lifetime member of the Texas State Teachers’ Association, the Texas wing of the most powerful teachers’ union in the U.S. — the National Education Agency (NEA).
Meanwhile, her supporters chalk up Bruner’s outlandish social media remarks to posting them before she announced her SBOE candidacy.
Quitman parent Denea Hudman told Breitbart Texas, “I have been troubled by the fact that the other candidate (Bruner) has misrepresented facts to the point that national news media is now investigating this race.”
This race matters. District 9 represents over 180 small school districts in 31 East Texas counties that span as far west as the neighboring Dallas counties of Rockwall and Kaufman. Furthermore, the 15-member State Board of Education (SBOE) plays a visible role in setting state curriculum standards for the instructional materials used by 5.2 million publicly educated school children. They establish graduation requirements and oversee the Permanent School Fund, the nation’s largest educational endowment. The SBOE also can approve or veto open enrollment charter school picks sent to them by the education commissioner.
School choice is a high priority with top Texas lawmakers yet, previously, Bruner seemed unaware or befuddled of the board’s open-enrollment charter school function, telling Breitbart Texas by email the SBOE has no power over school choice issues.
Conversely, Breitbart Texas spoke to Ellis, who said, “I will work to ensure that charters are focused on what is in the best interest of the children.” He added, “The responsibility of the board is to ensure that we do not waste taxpayer dollars and even more importantly, don’t place good children in bad classrooms run by foreign born owners or teach a curriculum that does not reflect the values of those of us who are blessed to call Texas home.”
While Bruner campaigns on behalf of cursive writing which she claims is no longer taught in Texas public schools, the Texas Education Agency says otherwise. It never left. Bruner fervently crusades for creationism to be taught side-by-side with the theory of evolution despite state and federal courts struck it down.
Ellis told Breitbart Texas that he has taught Sunday school church classes on the topic. He candidly voiced, “My concern of having religion taught in the classroom is whose religion is going to be taught? It might be the same beliefs that I have or it may be the beliefs of someone else’s religion.” He punctuated, “As a parent of three children who went through public schools I feel it was my responsibility to teach my children the beliefs of my faith.”
On more relevant classroom concepts, Ellis told Breitbart Texas, he “100 percent” favors local control. “I feel there is no role for the U.S. Department of Education as it relates to students in Texas.”
He has heard his opponent claim he “likes” the defunct CSCOPE curriculum and the more recent Common Core. He says, not so. He said the Lufkin ISD board “was unanimous in saying no to CSCOPE” developing “our own curriculum at a local level.” He clarified the board performed a full curriculum review “to ensure that not one shred of common core was in our curriculum.”
This Texas native also learned from his opponent that he hails from Washington state. Ellis clarified that at the age of 13, his mother remarried, taking him and his brothers to the Evergreen State, although, after high school, Ellis returned to Texas to attend Chiropractic College, later marrying and raising his children who attended Lufkin ISD, where he currently serves as school board
According to the Texas Tribune, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Bruner will probably have an edge because the movement conservatives backing her are more likely to show up to vote than the more moderate Republicans who are backing Ellis.
Brenda Stratton, a Tyler ISD parent, told Breitbart Texas she supports Ellis because “we need elected officials who use facts to make decisions. Electing the wrong individual for SBOE race 9 will have dire consequences for our Texas schools.”
Early voting runs from Mon., May 16 through Fri. May 20. The run-off election day is Tues., May 24. Voters must show ID to vote. See local election official’s websites for polling locations and hours. The winner faces Democratic challenger Amanda Rudolph, in the November general election.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.