Last summer, Kansas conservatives made headlines from coast to coast when they eked out the two-vote margin they needed from the state school board to downplay the teaching of evolution in the state's science standards.
This summer, their vote-collecting skills will again be tested—this time at the ballot box—as three of the six conservative Republicans who supported the anti- evolution standards are up for re-election to the Kansas board of education. A fourth isn't running again, and the only announced candidate for his seat is a moderate Republican who opposes the revised standards.
Of the three members seeking re-election, one is unlikely to face opposition in the Aug. 1 GOP primary, but two others will be challenged then by more politically moderate candidates.
"What this does is point out the rift in the Republican Party in the state," said James F. Sheffield Jr., an associate professor of political science at Wichita State University. "They are clearly sniping at each other, and they have been for several years now."
In 1998, the conservative chairman of the Kansas GOP resigned to challenge sitting Gov. Bill Graves, a moderate, in the primary. Mr. Graves prevailed and went on to win re-election.
The conservative wing of the party has been more successful in regional and other lower-profile races, such as the state school board, Mr. Sheffield said. "But the moderates have reasserted themselves in the past couple of years," he added.
Opponents of the science standards are optimistic that voters will elect new board members who will rewrite the standards, which are not mandatory but provide the basis for state tests.
One fact in their favor is that the one Democratic state board member who is on the ballot this year voted against the anti-evolution standards and is unlikely to face GOP opposition in the fall, according to Kari Austin, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.
The other five seats on the 10-member state board will be contested in 2002.
—David J. Hoff
Vol. 19, Issue 39, Page 8