Belluck, Pam. "Board Decision on Evolution Roils an Election in Kansas," New York Times, 29

 

Belluck, Pam. "Board Decision on Evolution Roils an Election in Kansas," New York Times, 29
July 2000, pp. 1, A10.

It is just a Kansas school board election, a primary election at. that. But no one in Kansas or
anywhere else is taking this race for granted.

Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised, some from out of state, whereas previous board
candidates raised only a few hundred dollars. Candidates are taking the unusual step of running
television commercials and are printing up leaflets and yard signs by the thousands.

Democrats are switching their party affiliation just to vote for school board candidates in the
Republican primary. And in what political observers consider extraordinary, Kansas's
highest-ranking Republicans - the governor and a United States senator - have not only weighed
in on the races, but have also endorsed opposing candidates in their own party.

"When was the last time you were even aware who was running for your state board of
education?" asked Michael Davis, a law professor at the University of Kansas.

The frenzy is the upshot of a vote last August by the Kansas Board of Education, which removed
evolution as an explanation for the origin of species from the state's science curriculum.

The decision, a 6-to-4 vote with conservative Republicans in the majority, reverberated around
the country, where other states have faced recent battles between evolution and creationism.
Kansas did not ban the teaching of evolution, leaving that option to local school districts. But its
decision meant that evolution would not be included in the state assessment tests that evaluate
student performance, which may discourage teachers from devoting time to the subject The board
also removed from the curriculum the big bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Now, 5 of 10 board seats are up for election, and in races for 4 of the 5 seats there is a primary
face-off on Aug. 1, with conservative Republicans who favor the new science standards being
challenged, by moderate Republicans who oppose them and who are expected to try to overturn
the standards if elected. In heavily Republican Kansas, the primary winners will be heavily
favored in November.

More than a decade after the Supreme Court said states could not compel the teaching of
creationism, opponents of evolution have begun pressing state and local school boards to play
down the importance of evolution by presenting it, alongside creationism and other theories, as
just one unproven explanation.

Last October, state officials in Kentucky eliminated the word "evolution" but not the scientific
theory from the school curriculum, substituting the phrase "change over time." In Oklahoma,
officials recently ordered that textbooks carry a disclaimer about the certainty of evolution, a step
similar to one already taken by Alabama.

Evolution's defenders have been active; too, winning last fall when New Mexico banned
creationism and :endorsed evolution in the science curriculum. New Hampshire, Ohio,
Tennessee, Texas, Washington and ,.other states considered, but defeated, proposals by critics of
evolution.

"It strikes me that evolution is even more of a litmus test than abortion now, courtesy of the
Kansas Board of Education," said Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist. "It
is really the defining characteristic of Kansas politics now."

At the time, the board's vote raised an outcry among many Kansans and guaranteed that the issue
would be revisited in this year's election. No reliable polls have been released suggesting what
might occur on Tuesday, though conservatives are typically better organized and have a better
turnout in primaries.

The issue also figures in a hotly contested Congressional race in the district bordering Kansas
City. Among the three Republicans seeking the right to take on the Democratic incumbent, Greg
Musil, a moderate, has run television commercials mentioning the evolution vote and saying,
"I'm embarrassed that Kansas is now being called a backward state."

Since the board's vote, local school board members say, more districts are talking about teaching
creationism or the "intelligent designer" theory, which holds that the universe is so complex that
some intelligent being must have created it. The vote also emboldened some teachers who had
been quietly teaching alternatives to evolution.

Other districts have resolved to teach evolution exclusively.

In the school board races, Gov. Bill Graves, who last August called the board's decision
"terrible" and "tragic," has endorsed moderate Republicans. Senator Sam Brownback has
endorsed conservatives.

Groups like People for the American Way sponsored a re-enactment of the Scopes "monkey
trial" at the University of Kansas this month, starring Ed Asner, a native Kansan. Proponents of
nonevolutionary theories, like Phillip Johnson, a University of California law professor who
believes in "intelligent design," have. donated money to conservative candidates. Local groups
have formed to defend or attack the board's vote, ncluding a political action commitee helping
conservative candidates.

Some Democrats have switched parties just for Tuesday's primary.

"I think this election is so critical to Kansas children that I was compelled to suck it up and
change parties," said Lois Culver, 69, of Overand Park. Mrs. Culver, who said she saw the new
standards as an effort to put religion in the schools, plans to rote for Sue Gamble, a moderate
Republican, and then rejoin the Democratic Party.

Mrs. Gamble, a rpember of the Shawnee Mission school board, said the new standards could "put
students at a disadvantage on a national level."

"You need to know about dinosaurs, the age of the earth," she said.

She said she worried that "students from out of state won't want to come here and study because
they feel the standards won't be up to snuff."

Mrs. Gamble's opponent, Linda Holloway, a conservative who headed the school board when the
evolution decision was made, has raised $90,000, an extraordinary sum in such races. Mrs.
Gamble has raised $36,000.

Mrs. Holloway, a former teacher, said she supported the new science standards because she
believed evoution had been made to seem too .mportant to science.

"I believe we should teach evolution in the schools," she said, "but I also believe that if local
districts wapt to teach that or other theories, that should be up to them. Gosh, there could have
been a lot bigger things that we could have done. This was pretty mild."

In Wichita, the conservative incumbent Mary Douglass Brown, said the new standards "put a
little crack in the foundation" of evolution scientists, "their money, their books, their schools."

"There's a lot of money in evolution," Mrs. Brown, a former teacher, said. "To me, it's
pseudoscience."

Mrs. Brown said the board left in references to "micro-evolution," changes within organisms that
"people can see," like bacteria becoming disease-resistant. "I don't believe that humans
descended from apes, no," she Laid. "How came there's still apes running around loose and there
are humans? Why did some of them decide to evolve and some did not?"

Such ideas propelled people a like Bill Skaer, a veterinarian, and Burt Humburg, a medical
student, to switch to the Republican Party to vote against Mrs. Brown.

And they spurred Carol Rupe, a former Wichita school board member, to challenge her.

Ms. Rupe said she was "embarrassed when suddenly, after the; vote last summer, we were called
by- our friends and relatives in other states wondering what kind of state we lived in."

"We said it was just a few people," she said: "But, my goodness, if those few are re- elected, then
it reflects on the entire state."