Democrat holds off challenger in key school race

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Associated Press

Posted on November 7, 2012 at 1:06 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 7 at 1:06 AM

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An incumbent Democratic State Board of Education member on Tuesday defeated a Republican challenger with ties to an anti-gay Topeka church notorious for picketing military members' funerals.

According to unofficial results, Carolyn Campbell of Topeka defeated Jack Wu, a Topeka computer programmer who made opposition to teaching evolution the cornerstone of his campaign in the 4th District in northeast Kansas. Wu described evolution as "Satanic lies" and said on a website that public schools were preparing students to be "liars, crooks, thieves, murderers, and perverts."

Campbell campaigned aggressively, saying throughout that she took nothing for granted.

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 that voters knew about his identification with Westboro Baptist. In an interview in late October, he called the GOP's snub "insulting," saying he was a registered Republican before he came to Kansas.

"I told them I am a Republican, and I don't need you to tell me who's a Republican," Wu 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 follow Wu's party affiliation.

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.

In the 2nd District in the Kansas City area, former state Rep. Cindy Neighbor of Shawnee, faced Steve Roberts, an Overland Park Republican, a professional math tutor. Both favored evolution-friendly science standards. Roberts was leading the race late Tuesday.

In the 6th District of north-central Kansas, Republican incumbent Kathy Martin of Clay Center, an evolution skeptic in the past, was not seeking re-election. The candidates to replace her were former moderate GOP state Rep. Deana Horst and Carol Viar, an accountant and local school board member, both from Salina. Horst was leading that race with three-fourths of the vote counted.

Two moderate Republicans from Wichita, Kathy Busch and Jim McNiece, were unopposed in the neighboring 8th and 10th Districts, and both favored preserving evolution-friendly standards.

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