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Pro-evolution forces prevail in 3 Kansas Republican primaries

TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–The “first thing we do” will be to reverse Kansas’ anti-evolution science school standards, a pro-evolution Republican declared after defeating the Kansas State Board of Education’s former chairman Aug. 1.

Pro-evolution candidates won three of the Republican primary races for the November election, which will determine half of the board’s 10 members.

The science standards, which de-emphasized the teaching of evolution in the state’s 304 school districts, was “the lightning rod that captured people’s attention,” Sue Gamble, the Republican victor by a 60-40-percent margin over fellow Shawnee resident Linda Holloway, told The Topeka Capital-Journal. Holloway was board chairman when the science standards were revised on a 6-4 vote last year to eliminate references to the theory of evolution on state assessment tests measuring student competency in science.

Another incumbent who voted for the standards, Mary Douglass Brown of Wichita, was defeated in her district’s Republican primary by a 52-48-percent margin and, in a district with no incumbent, the pro-evolution candidate for the Republican nod defeated the conservative candidate.

The lone conservative incumbent victor in the Aug. 1 Republican primary was Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, who won by a 62-percent margin. Meanwhile, a Democratic incumbent who voted against the new standards, Bill Wagnon, unopposed in the Democratic primary, will face a conservative opponent Nov. 7 who likewise was unopposed in the Republican primary.

Wagnon, of Topeka, told The Topeka Journal-Capital, “I think it is a foregone conclusion that we will get a new set of science standards. A majority of Kansans don’t agree with what the board did.”

Janet Waugh, of Kansas City, a Democratic board member not up for re-election this year, said much the same to The Wichita Eagle after the Aug. 1 primary, “There’s no doubt in my mind … one of the first actions we’ll take in January when the new board takes over would be to reverse the science standards.”

The board’s current chairman, Harold Voth of Haven, Kan., who also voted for the new standards though he is considered a Republican moderate, told The Eagle, “I really don’t know how this will work out or how I feel” about the prospect of several new pro-evolution board members, whether Republican or Democrat, joining the board after the Nov. 7 election.

The race between Holloway, a 20-year veteran teacher and the board’s current vice chairman, and Gamble, a 13-year veteran of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education and former president of the Kansas Association of School Boards, took center stage, featured in national articles by the Associated Press, New York Times and USA Today, for example. Holloway, an evangelical Christian, won her first four-year term in 1996.

A coalition of organizations supporting evolution went “all out,” as USA Today put it, with such efforts to oust the Republican conservatives as a reenactment of the Scopes trial sponsored by the anti-conservative People for the American Way in Washington and featuring noted actor Ed Asner, a Kansas native. The Kansas coalition of teachers, parents and others operated under the banner, Kansas Citizens for Science.

Holloway raised about $90,000 for her re-election bid, which included TV ads, compared to $10,000 in 1996, while Gamble, a real estate agent, raised nearly $36,000 in the most expensive school board race in state history, according to the Kansas City Star.

“I believe we should teach evolution in school,” Holloway, 50, said in one of her ads, “but I also believe that decision should be left to you. I trust you and your local school board to make decisions that are best for your child. If you want evolution or other theories taught, that should be your choice — not some federal or state mandate.”

Gamble, 58, meanwhile, contended that Kansas’ new science standards, as she told the AP, are “depriving kids of information that I feel they need to be competitive at the college level.”

The names of all current members of the Kansas State Board of Education can be located on the Internet at www.ksbe.state.ks.us/commiss/bdaddr.html.