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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Texas education board candidate known for conspiracy posts

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — She is a retired Texas schoolteacher who has claimed President Barack Obama is a gay prostitute, Democrats orchestrated the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that the flood from the biblical story of Noah’s Ark is what destroyed the dinosaurs.

Mary Lou Bruner is also the front-runner in a Republican primary runoff Tuesday for a seat on the influential state education board — a nomination the 69-year-old nearly clinched outright despite a lengthy social media history of posting about conspiracy theories and fringe screeds. In March, she fell just two percentage points shy of avoiding a runoff altogether.

Her election would be stunning, even given that the Texas State Board of Education was chaired until 2011 by a creationist who tried weakening evolution lessons in science classrooms. The 15-member board that sets curriculum standards for 5.2 million Texas schoolchildren has more recently fought over whether history textbooks promote Islam or contain anti-American biases.

Bruner has called climate change a hoax concocted by Karl Marx and suggested that the federal health care overhaul is a part of a government plot to reduce the U.S. population, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured by the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning watchdog of the state education board.

Bruner wrote in 2013 that Noah may have put baby dinosaurs aboard his ark and that those dinosaurs may have been wiped out after the flood described in the Bible because there wasn’t enough vegetation on earth for them to survive to reproductive age. Although it might have made sense “to take small dinosaurs onto the ark instead of the ones bigger than a bus,” she wrote, the flood drowning those of reproductive age is what really wiped out dinosaurs — and not a meteor as “concocted” by atheists.

“If she wins it would be embarrassing for the state of Texas because it would again make us look like an educational backwater,” said Dan Quinn, spokesman for Texas Freedom Network.

Anthony Bruner, Mary Lou Bruner’s husband, responded to an interview request from The Associated Press on Monday directed to his wife by emailing a link to a Dallas television appearance. Mary Lou Bruner appeared alongside her opponent, Republican Keven Ellis, who on Monday said her victory would make Texas “take a step backward almost to the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ days,” a reference to the books about the pioneering Ingalls family set in the 19th century.

Bruner didn’t disavow her Facebook posts in the interview with Dallas television station WFAA.

“When I wrote those things, I wasn’t even intending to run for the State Board of Education. I had no idea that I would,” she said. “I was actually calling people and trying to get them to run — people with my values — and I couldn’t find anyone. They kept saying, ‘Well, why don’t you run?'”

Curriculum battles on the Texas education board are often closely watched over worries that the state’s textbook buying power influences what winds up in classrooms across the U.S. But publishing experts say technology now allows the industry to more easily customize textbooks for individual markets.

Bruner is running in a staunchly conservative East Texas district that would make her an automatic favorite to win in November over the Democratic nominee, who is a professor at Stephen F. Austin University.

But Bruner’s momentum may be slipping. An influential tea party group this month withdrew their endorsement after Bruner rattled off a series of inaccurate statements during a meeting with school superintendents, including that half of Texas’ schoolchildren are in special education programs. Bruner told WFAA she misspoke and meant to say almost half of Texas students are in “one special program or another.”

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