If you are truly worried about Texas public schools, the place to look is not the restroom.
The problems in public schools begin in the voting booth, where Texans continue to elect leaders who are either blasé toward or blatantly oppose public education.
This is not new. But what is new is a candidate like Mary Lou Bruner, the East Texas Republican who openly spouts bizarre notions — claiming President Barack Obama was a prostitute, that pre-K promotes gay marriage and Sharia, and the Democrats had President John F. Kennedy killed to promote “socialist and unethical” Lyndon Johnson.
And what is definitely new is that despite everything she has said in an eccentric election campaign, Bruner still is close to winning a seat May 31 on the State Board of Education.
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They say I’m stupid, but I have the right to be stupid. I have the right to say what I believe.
Smith County Republican Mary Lou Bruner
Bruner, a resident of rural Smith County near Mineola, had 48 percent of the vote in the March 1 primary and nearly won without a runoff in the district, which stretches from the Dallas suburbs of Forney and Rockwall east to Louisiana.
Her runoff opponent, Lufkin school board President Keven Ellis, lives far from most voters.
When I met Bruner on Thursday at the state Republican convention, we chatted about her Fort Worth background. Bruner lived here and graduated from Texas Wesleyan University while her husband, Anthony, was studying at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Right away, she got my attention.
“They say I’m stupid,” she said in the sweet voice of a 36-year kindergarten and special education teacher, “but I have the right to be stupid. I have the right to say what I believe.”
Bruner, a retired teacher, will face Lufkin school board President Keven Ellis, a chiropractor, in the May 31 runoff in counties east of Dallas.
Most of the national news reports about Bruner have focused on her position that biblical creationism should be taught in science courses. But in East Texas, that’s not a drawback.
Lately, though, conservative bloggers and even prominent Tyler-area Tea Party figure JoAnn Fleming have begun to doubt whether Bruner is East Texas’ best and brightest for the state board, which oversees curriculum and textbooks and generally handles odd jobs assigned by the Legislature.
Bruner got caught exaggerating Texas’ school problems to an audience of school leaders. Unlike your typical Tea Party group, they knew better when she claimed that half of students are in special education and only 1 in 6 can read well.
I’ve written before about how she quotes the anti-public education John Birch Society on Facebook.
At the convention, she told me “liberals ... smear my name and make it look like I’m a radical who has no sense at all.”
As they say in East Texas: Bless her heart.