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Evolution in the 1998 Elections

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution in the 1998 Elections
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura, NCSE Network Project Director
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1998
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The day after the 1998 elections, news began arriving from allied organizations and members around the country, reporting how state and local elections had affected the future of evolution education in their communities. At first glance, the news appeared to be good: many defeated candidates had been endorsed by the "Religious Right" for their support of policies designed to weaken church-state separation. However, a community may elect a creationist for one office and not another; or regional differences in a state may lead to different districts' electing representatives on both sides of the issue. Moreover, support for "creation science" crosses party lines, and some individuals' support for "creation science" proposals results from their acceptance of arguments for local control of curricula or the fairness of "teaching both sides," rather than religious beliefs. Thus it is the details of local results that give the clearest picture. Here's what we've learned so far:

Alabama's incumbent Governor Fob James, still remembered for offering an ape-imitation as an argument against evolution at the 1995 meeting of his state's Board of Education, was defeated in his bid for re-election.

While California re-elected State Superintendent of Education Delaine Eastin, who supports evolution education, results of local elections are expected to vary. Already, Bill McComas has reported that James Rogan, a Ventura County Republican who expressly supports "creation science", has been elected to the US Congress.

Just days before the election, we received email from Florida asking whether we could verify an allegation that gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush supports teaching "creation science." We are still exploring this question, and would welcome further information, since Governor-elect Bush was endorsed by the American Family Association, which has opposed evolution education in other states.

Idaho was another state with mixed results. Idaho voters re-elected US Rep. Helen Chenoweth, who has supported a school-prayer amendment and explicitly supports "creation science"; but they rejected Anne Fox's bid for re-election as Superintendent of Public Instruction. Fox, who supported teaching "creation science", lost by a healthy 8% margin.

Writing from Kentucky, Thomas Wheeler recalled that earlier in the year, he had read a report in RNCSE that, according to the newsletter of "Operation T.E.A.C.H.", State Senator Gex Williams was willing to introduce an anti-evolution bill in the state legislature. Williams was just defeated in his bid for a seat in the US Congress.

NCSE members Kim Johnson, Dave Thomas, and Richard Talley report mixed results in New Mexico . Roger X Lenard, who has been a strong opponent of evolution while serving on the State Board of Education, lost in his race for a seat in the State House of Representatives. However, P Davis Vickers of Las Lunas, who has been pressing for "creation science" in his school district, was elected to the state House, and Rep Tim Macko, who introduced an anti-evolution bill in 1997, was re-elected.With the election of NCSE member Marshall Berman to the Board of Education, the defeat of antievolution candidates Mary Agnes Gilbert and Darl Miller, and Lenard's vacant seat soon to be filled by a new appointee, New Mexicans are hopeful that the Board will take significant steps to improve science education.

Tennessee shocked the nation with the news of the pre-election murder of Democrat Tommy Burks, a state legislator who was a key supporter of the notorious "Scopes II" anti-evolution bill in 1995. Burks' widow was elected to his seat in the state House of Representatives.

Writing from Texas, Rob Pennock also reports mixed results. Donna Ballard, known in her state as a "firebrand conservative", had worked hard to limit evolution in the curriculum during her term on the State Board of Education. Having resigned when her family moved, she ran for office in her new district, but was defeated by incumbent Rene Nunez. According to Pennock, "Religious conservatives had targeted five seats on the Board. Had they won all five they would have had a majority." They picked up one new seat, and retained one.

From Washington, Pierre Stromberg reported that in pre-election television statements Governor-elect Gary Locke made the evolution-creation controversy a campaign issue, criticizing several Republican opponents for their support of creationism and specifically mentioning the evolution disclaimer bill introduced in the state senate in January 1998.