State Board of Education races aren't normally known for drawing a spotlight, but candidate Thomas Ratliff is doing his best to raise the profile of his primary race against former SBOE chair Don McLeroy. Next week the lobbyist-turned-candidate will hold a fundraiser at the Austin Club and the Republican establishment is coming out in support. It could spell a shift for McLeroy, an incumbent Republican who Perry once appointed chair of the board.
The event's host committee (see attached) is a who's-who of paid conservative lobbyists.There's Mike Toomey, who served as chief-of-staff to Governor Rick Perry between his stints as a power-broker and had 29 clients last session including AT&T and Liberty Mutual. And former senator David Sibley, who, along with Teel Bivins and Bill Ratliff (the candidate's father), were the powerful voices of the state senate during their tenure. He had 35 clients last session and is well known for his influence.
Then there are some education advocates in the mix: David Thompson has long been a fixture at education meetings and lobbies on behalf of several school districts.
Opponent Don McLeroy has been slow coming out of the gate and is already behind Ratliff in endorsements and fundraising. Last week, Ratliff garnered support from House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and House Calendars Chair Brian McCall, R-Plano, and next week's fundraiser will likely push Ratliff further ahead financially.
Of course the race isn't over yet. These endeavors highlight Ratliff's primary weakness — that he lobbies in Austin. McLeroy and his colleague Ken Mercer both face lobbyist primary challengers, and Mercer has argued repeatedly that lobbyists have no business running for office. McLeroy may be able to leverage his opponent's occupation if he energizes enough Christian conservatives to come out in support. But he may need to make those calls fast.