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Politics

State Board of Education Chair’s “Christian” Remark Draws Fire

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Caleb Bryant Miller, Texas Tribune
Barbara Cargill is the newly appointed chair of the State Board of Education.

Some members of the Texas State Board of Education have expressed disappointment over comments by the newly appointed Chairperson of the Board. Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) said there are only “six true conservative Christians” on the 15-member elected body.

Cargill was speaking to members of the Eagle Forum. The meeting was videotaped and posted online, then later removed. But before it was deleted, the liberal Texas Freedom Network downloaded a copy and posted it to its own YouTube site.

“We did lose a conservative seat in the last election,” Cargill says in the video. “So right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board, and so we now have to fight for two votes. Whereas in previous years, we had to fight to get one vote to be a majority. So that has changed, and will be interesting as we proceed.”

Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) unseated former SBOE chair Don McLeroy in the 2009 primary election. McLeroy was the most prominent symbol of Christian conservative power on the board. Ratliff says he wasn’t offended by Cargill’s comment, but he was “disappointed” by it.

“I think it’s an unfortunate start to her tenure as chair,” Ratliff told KUT News. “But this is just part of what’s wrong with politics. It’s not enough to disagree with someone over policy. You have to question their morals or values.  I think people are getting sick of it.”

Ratliff says he was raised Christian and is active in his Methodist Church. When it’s not summer, he attends Bible study on Wednesdays and worship service on Sunday mornings.

Board member Bob Craig (R-Lubbock) told his local NBC affiliate that the comment “didn’t sit well” with him.

"The comment was basically that we are not Christians, and I am very much a Christian.  I have strong Christian beliefs,” Craig told KCBD.

But Cargill’s comments, as offensive as they may have been to some board members, do point towards a political reality on the State Board of Education. Observers, including the Texas Freedom Network, routinely site the “socially conservative bloc” on the SBOE, referring to a group of conservative members who tend to vote as a group on controversial cultural issues.

The existence of a bloc is rarely if ever disputed. But board members rarely question the authenticity of each other’s faith, at least in public.

“I think this is a learning curve,” State Board of Education Member Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) said in a phone interview with KUT. Farney is not considered to be a member of the socially conservative bloc, but she is a conservative Christian. Her district includes Austin north of Lady Bird Lake.

“I did speak with [Cargill], and she’s assured me those kinds of comments will not be repeated,” Farney said. “She regretted the choice of words.”

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