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Lani Popp Defeats Robert Morrow In Texas State Board Of Education Runoff

Via social media
Preliminary results Tuesday night showed Lani Popp, a speech pathologist, leading with more than three-fourths of the vote in early returns in the Republican primary runoff for the State Board of Education's District 5 seat.

No one on the Texas State Board of Education wanted conspiracy theorist Robert Morrow to join their ranks — and Tuesday's runoff election gave them their wish.

Election night returns Tuesday showed opponent Lani Popp, a Northside Independent School District speech pathologist, defeating Morrow, a self-described performance artist with a history of racist and sexist comments, with more than three-fourths of the vote in the Republican primary runoff for the board's District 5 seat.

The board is responsible for determining what millions of children in Texas public schools learn, developing curriculum standards and approving textbook proposals. Previously a lightning rod for national controversy due to its public battles over how to teach science, ethnic studies and sexual health, the board has toned down in recent years, according to onlookers and board members.

But Morrow's campaign threatened to plunge the board back into the spotlight after he was the leading vote recipient in the first round of primary voting in March. All nine Republicans on the 15-member board endorsed Popp, including its chair, Keven Ellis, who tweeted Tuesday morning, "THOSE IN SBOE DISTRICT 5, SAY NO TO ROBERT MORROW. YES I AM YELLING!!!"

The seat is in play after incumbent Ken Mercer, a Republican, decided not to run for reelection in District 5, which picks up communities along the Interstate 35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin and stretches out into the Hill Country. Mercer also endorsed Popp, calling Morrow's rhetoric "anti-woman" and "pretty bizarre."

In March's primary, Morrow won 40% of the vote to Popp's 34%, bumping candidate Inga Cotton, a parent activist, out of the race but forcing a runoff.

Popp could very well lose in November, since District 5 is considered a possibility to flip to to the Democrats as suburban communities lining I-35 begin to trend blue. She will face Rebecca Bell-Metereau, a Texas State University English and film professor who narrowly lost to Mercer in 2016. The seat is one of eight in play this year, and Democrats make up a third of the board.

Morrow is known for his signature jester's hat, racist comments and conspiracy theories about President Donald Trump. He once shared a photo of former First Lady Michelle Obama with the comment "Touch my monkey," and he regularly shares lewd photos of women on social media.

In 2016, he unexpectedly won the race for chair of the Travis County Republican Party and then was forced to give it up when he filed to run for president as a write-in candidate that year.

Morrow put minimal effort into his latest campaign, raising no money, garnering no endorsements and regularly telling reporters he did not expect to win. His run, he acknowledged, was more like performance art than a true political effort.

Popp, on the other hand, raised more than $20,000 and spent almost $100,000, the majority of which was her personal money, according to her campaign finance report. Cotton, a San Antonio parent and charter activist, who had run and lost to Popp and Morrow in the primary, contributed $1,000 to Popp's campaign. Popp also spent thousands on shirts, advertisements, robocalls and consulting fees.

This story has been updated.


From The Texas Tribune

Disclosure: Texas State University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Aliyya Swaby started as the Texas Tribune's public education reporter in October 2016. She came to the Tribune from the hyperlocal nonprofit New Haven Independent, where she covered education, zoning and transit for two years. After graduating from Yale University in 2013, she spent a year freelance reporting in Panama on social issues affecting black Panamanian communities. A native New Yorker, Aliyya misses public transportation but is thrilled by the lack of snow.
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