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The Brief: March 12, 2010

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the State Board of Education.

Gail Lowe


Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the State Board of Education.

The SBOE soap opera only has one day left to finish its discussion of the state's social studies curriculum before we get a two-month reprieve — but if yesterday is anything to go by, today should be memorable.

Yesterday, the conservative bloc on the board made the most of their votes, joining together to vote against an amendment that would have required explaining the reasons for the separation of church and state. Then there were their successful votes that limited the discussion of race and gender issues and the votes that emphasized conservative issues like gun rights, limited government and free markets.

The decisions aren't just for laughs — the Texas curriculum decisions have major implications for other states. Since Texas is one of the biggest textbook clients, the curriculum here will probably determine many of the textbook options for other states. Partially for this reason (and partially because these meetings are surprisingly fun to watch), these debates have garnered signficant national attention. 

So it made for good television that moderate and left-leaning members didn't take their defeats lying down. Several times, debates over amendments spilled into broader arguments about race or American sociaety. In one case, Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said that while she had seen racism during the era of segregation in Memphis, things are much better for minorities now. Member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, took her to task, saying that African Americans and other minorites still "Yes, we have come a long way, but we have not arrived."

Then, in a climactic moment, member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, lost it and decided to leave the meeting.

But before she did, she gave her own speech, and according to the Tribune's Brian Thevenot, Berlanga didn't mince words:

“I’ve done all I can do today, folks. I’ve listened, tried to work with you, given you names, come back with new amendments to satisfy everyone — and nothing works. You complained about the lists (of Hispanic figures) being too long … And now it looks like you’re able to put in the names all of these people, God knows who they are. So I’ve had it … I’m leaving for the evening. Everyone can go ahead and remove the Tejanos who died at the Alamo and we can all pretend that we live in white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

We can only guess at what's to come today, but it should be worth watching. Susan Lucci, eat your heart out.


• Hitchcock might be surprised to find the current concerns about birds. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar came to Austin yesterday and spent much of his time discussing the concern for endangered birds, like the whooping crane. Salazar argued that climate change especially hurts these populations. As he was speaking, The Aransas Project, a water conservation group, filed a complaint against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s management of the Guadalupe River Basin, alleging it has caused an illegal “take” — harm or harassment — of the birds under the ESA.

• Ouch! State Farm announced it will raise Texas homeowner rates by 4.5 percent. The insurance company, which insures 30 percent of the state's homeowners insurance market, explained its plan in a filing with the state's regulators. This is the second rate increase in eight months, and the Insurance Department may negotiate the increase — or it can start a process which, if successful, can lead to refunds. Homeowners, cross your fingers.

George W. Bush's absence certainly seems to make people grow fonder. The former president, who left office with the lowest rating in 70 years, is already getting a boost in popularity, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Not only do 79 percent of Texas Republicans give Bush a favorable rating, but they're even buying shirts. "Miss me yet?" merchandise, referencing Bush's time in office, has been selling stong for weeks some vendors say. So while the ex-president continues to lay low, watch out for the shirts on next season's runways.


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