Carolyn Campbell lamented that she didn’t court enough voters in northeast Kansas in seeking her second term on the State Board of Education.
Her opponent, Jack Wu, was outspoken on teaching evolution and has ties to an anti-gay Topeka church notorious for picketing military members’ funerals. Campbell, a Democrat, worried GOP voters would simply follow Wu’s Republican party affiliation.
In the end, Campbell, a Topeka Democrat, received more than enough votes in Tuesday’s election, easily defeating Wu, according to unofficial results.
“I’m happy I have four more years to work for our children. That’s all I wanted to do,” Campbell said.
Also winning seats on the 10-member board were Republican Steve Roberts of Overland Park in the 2nd District of the Kansas City area and former GOP state Rep. Deana Horst of Salina in the 6th District of central Kansas.
Wu, a Topeka computer programmer, made opposition to teaching evolution the centerpiece of his campaign. He described evolution as “Satanic lies” and said on a website that public schools were preparing students to be “liars, crooks, thieves, murderers, and perverts.”
Wu also raised eyebrows by saying that he was lured to Kansas from California in 2008 by Westboro Baptist. The Topeka church, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., is known internationally for picketing with anti-gay slogans and proclaiming that American soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. Wu is not formally a member, but he’s attended services regularly.
Republicans, including Gov. Sam Brownback, disavowed Wu in June, and Democrats worked to make sure voters knew about his identification with Westboro Baptist. Wu said he didn’t have the campaign resources to counter Campbell’s ads making an issue of his ties to the church.
“I don’t see where that has anything to do with public education. It is what it is,” he said.
Campbell, a former Topeka school board member, was elected to her second, four-year term on the state board. She acknowledged that she was worried some voters in GOP-leaning Kansas would simply vote Republican.
“I feel like I missed a few people, but I’m pleased with the margin of victory,” Campbell said. “I think a lot of people voted for him going down the ‘R’ list and didn’t know anything about him.”
John Ham, 48, a stay-at-home father of two teenagers in Topeka, is a registered Republican but voted for Campbell because of Wu’s ties to Westboro Baptist. He said he, too, worried that about Republicans voting a straight ticket.
“I hope that everyone else understood the actual candidates,” he said, leaving his polling place at the Topeka Lutheran School.
The election keeps the 10-member board’s balance of power the same, diminishing any chances that Kansas might adopt science standards for its public schools skeptical of evolution, as it has in the past. A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans was firmly in the majority.
Much of the board’s work in setting education policy has been overshadowed since the late 1990s by debates about how evolution should be taught and the resulting national attention and ridicule. The state had five sets of standards in eight years starting in 1999, as evolution skeptics gained and lost state board majorities in elections. The current, evolution-friendly standards were adopted by the board in 2007, but state law requires them to be updated.
Kansas is working with 25 other states and the National Research Council on proposed science standards, and Kansas officials expect the state board to consider adopting them early next year.