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Evolution education still a factor in Kansas elections


As the November 7, 2006, general election approaches, evolution education continues to be a factor in campaigns across Kansas, even though the results of the August primary election practically guarantee a reversal of the state board of education's November 2005 decision to adopt a set of state science standards that was rewritten, under the guidance of local "intelligent design" activists, to impugn the scientific standing of evolution. In the primary election, Sally Cauble, a supporter of evolution education, defeated antievolution incumbent Connie Morris for the Republican nomination in District 5, and Jana Shaver, a supporter of evolution education, defeated antievolution candidate Brad Patzer, son-in-law of antievolution incumbent Iris Van Meter, for the Republican nomination in District 9. Since Cauble and Shaver's Democratic opponents, Tim Cruz and Kent Runyan, also support evolution education, supporters of evolution education are expected to have a 6-4 majority on the board, no matter who prevails in the November election.

As a columnist in the Kansas City Star (August 21, 2006), observed, however, "There's still time for voters to make the board's new moderate majority stronger still. Board members Ken Willard of Hutchinson and John Bacon of Olathe survived their GOP primaries." Willard, a Republican representing District 7, is facing a challenge from Democrat Jack Wempe; Bacon, a Republican representing District 3, is facing a challenge from Democrat Don Weiss. Both Willard and Bacon were avid supporters of the antievolution version of the standards, a decision that continues to attract comment. For example, the Kansas City Star (October 28, 2006), endorsing Weiss and Wempe, described Willard and Bacon as having excited "national ridicule for voting to criticize the theory of evolution in state science standards," while the Johnson County Sun (October 12, 2006), endorsing Weiss, castigated [Link broken] Bacon and his allies for their "antics on evolution instruction," which were "an embarrassment for Kansas around the world."

Evolution education is also emerging as relevant to the gubernatorial race. Incumbent governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, is promising to press for a constitutional amendment to change the state board of education to a purely advisory body, citing in particular the controversy over the place of evolution in the state science standards. Suggesing that the controversy frustrates the state's attempts to attract the bioscience industry, she told the Topeka Capital-Journal (October 11, 2006), "It doesn't give a whole lot of confidence in coming to Kansas." Her Republican opponent, Jim Barnett, reportedly supported the board's adoption of the antievolution version of the standards, commenting, "In a free society, it should be perfectly acceptable to question what is taught and to allow for differences of opinion." The Wichita Eagle's blog (October 21, 2006), subsequently reported Barnett as saying "I believe in evolution," and affirming that he has no problem reconciling evolution with his religious faith.