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New Republican on State Board of Education keeps mum on creationism

The new Republican State Board of Education representative isn't saying whether he'll vote to remove creationism from state science curriculum standards.

Dr. Keven Ellis, newly elected to the State Board of Education, District 9.

Editor's note: Correction appended.

Keven Ellis, the newest Republican on the State Board of Education, is keeping his politics on a hot-button issue close to the vest.

In an interview Wednesday, he declined to say anything specific about his views on whether Texas should keep creationist language in its science standards — a debate the nation will watch when the state board takes up the issue next year.

The Lufkin board trustee and chiropractor won the race Tuesday for the District 9 seat against Democrat Amanda Rudolph by more than 50 percentage points Tuesday night, getting 74 percent of the vote. He will replace outgoing moderate Republican Thomas Ratliff on the 15-member board in January.

Three Republican incumbents kept their seats against Democratic challengers Tuesday, despite speculation that the divisive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would keep GOP voters at home. The board's political makeup remained the same, with 10 Republicans — split between moderate and far right — and five Democrats. It remains to be seen whether Ellis will change the stakes.

Texas' State Board of Education has received national attention for an upcoming fight over whether to keep creationist language that challenges evolution in Texas' science curriculum standards. The Texas Education Agency convened a panel of educators that voted to remove passages discrediting evolutionary science from science curriculum standards. The state board will vote on whether to accept that recommendation early next year.

"We'll look at that as that comes up," Ellis said Wednesday. "There's a lot on the plate ... I don't want to make determinations now of what the science needs to be." 

Ellis also declined to take a position on creationism in a candidate questionnaire from the Texas Freedom Network before the election.

"The SBOE should understand they 'approve' the standards — not develop them," he wrote in an addendum.

Texas Freedom Network spokesman Dan Quinn said Ellis has discussed the importance of listening to experts in making board decisions. "If he does follow the advice of experts, that certainly would be encouraging," Quinn said, since many teachers support removing creationism from the curriculum.

Otherwise, Ellis' addition to the group will likely not change the board dynamic, said Quinn, whose organization is a watchdog of the State Board of Education. "The far-right faction will probably be emboldened by the larger election returns from yesterday," with Trump as president and a GOP-dominated Congress. "It's hard to see the culture battles fading away on the state board after this election."

Eagerly joining the fray will be Democrat Georgina Perez in District 1, who won 83 percent of the vote against Green Party challenger Hugo Noyola. She has vowed to be a more vocal Democrat on a board dominated by conservatives.

Ellis received support during a tough primary from moderate Republican state representatives aligned with Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. His primary opponent Mary Lou Bruner, of Mineola, came under fire for controversial Facebook posts, most notably one that called President Barack Obama a former gay prostitute.

Read more about the State Board of Education elections here:

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described creationist language in Texas' science curriculum standards. 

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