State Board of Education former Chair (and current member) Don McLeroy wasn't too concerned about losing Democratic swing-vote Rick Agosto. At least not at first.
"The big impact will be if I depart," McLeroy said over the phone.
And later: "Frankly, as far as some of these key battles where we actually can’t come to a total consensus, I don’t think it will make much difference, as long as I can get reelected."
During the brief interview, McLeroy was pretty adamant that Agosto's votes didn't play a major role in furthering the conservative agenda, and he pointed to the science curriculum, where Agosto's votes regarding evolution and the like were pretty wishy-washy.
But an hour later, McLeroy called back with some different news. Agosto's abstention on the math book, which McLeroy dismissed initially, was actually essential, he said. "We never could have done that without him," McLeroy said in a voice message.
"He did a lot of thinking on his own," McLeroy explained in the recording. "He was not a rubber stamp for anybody." For those unfamiliar with McLeroy, not being a rubber stamp is high praise.
Why the change? Perhaps McLeroy realized the danger the conservatives on the board would face without Agosto.
While Agosto is a Democrat, his votes and abstentions have often allowed the seven far right members of the board to control the agenda. (While the SBOE is split between ten Republicans and five Democrats, the important division is between McLeroy's bloc of seven and everyone else.) As a result, Agosto often determines which side wins contentious votes. In the case of the math textbook, his abstention gave the conservatives the ability to reject the book.
Agosto’s been mired in scandal since the Dallas Morning News published reports a few weeks ago that he and fellow Democrat Rene Nunez accepted gifts worth thousands of dollars without reporting them. Agosto has actively denied such allegations, but Texans for Public Justice have filed charges against both men. Agosto announced last Friday that he wouldn't seek reelection when his term runs out in 2010.
Agosto's district in San Antonio skews Democratic, and he'd already drawn a primary challenger in Dr. Michael Soto. Soto's garnered powerful endorsements from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and former SBOE member and legislator Joe Bernal, making him the likely Democratic candidate.
McLeroy said, should Soto win, he will be surprised by the board and its members. "I think he doesn’t understand what we’ve done," McLeroy said during the interview. "If he depended on the San Antonio newspaper and the Austin American Statesman and the Texas Freedom Network — they make us out to be awful sometimes."