Do you want a person who believes that the current occupant of the Oval Office was once a prostitute to decide what’s in your children’s textbooks? How about a woman who thinks that climate change is a Marxist “HOAX” (caps hers) to steer K–12 curricula for more than 5 million kids?
Well, then Texas has a candidate for you—and she won big on Super Tuesday.
Texas State Board of Education candidate Mary Lou Bruner’s website features a prayer that begins, “Lord, We ask You to show us where we as Christians and as a nation have fallen short of the mark allowing our government leaders to pass evil and ungodly laws which displease God.”
It seems the Lord has been listening to Bruner, for she took a commanding 48.45 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the Republican nomination for one of the state board’s 15 seats. She will face a run-off—in Texas, you have to hit the 50 percent threshold to make it official—against the second-place candidate in what promises to be a very-tiny-turnout election in late May. Because Texas heavily influences textbook content for schools all over the country, Bruner’s probable ascent is a very big—and very disturbing—deal.
Texas has long been ground zero for wackazoid right-wing politicians, who seem to get more entrenched every year: The current agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, is on a heaven-sent mission to put deep fryers and vending machines back into schools after a 10-year ban, and the attorney general, Ken Paxton, is obsessed with invalidating same-sex marriages, even on death certificates. (Paxton could be disbarred for encouraging clerks to ignore the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, among numerous other ethically questionable acts.)
But Bruner, a retired teacher with 36 years of experience in Texas schools, is exceptional even by Lone Star standards. Earlier this year, she made headlines for claiming that President Barack Obama bankrolled his drug habit by plying his wares on the street, as first reported by Texas Freedom Network. She posted on Facebook:
Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties. That is how he paid for his drugs. He has admitted he was addicted to drugs when he was young, and he is sympathetic with homosexuals; but he hasn’t come out of the closet about his own homosexual/bisexual background.
Just a regrettable slip of the tongue, right? An issue, like Donald Trump and the KKK, that she needs to examine more closely? Nope. Bruner doubled down on her theory just this week, telling Breitbart Texas, “I don’t intend to apologize for my opinions because I still believe my statements were accurate.”
Her other views are just as, uh, imaginative. She believes that school shootings started “after the government removed the Ten Commandments and the Bible from public school buildings, and disallowed prayer at school and school events,” that “Evolution is a religious philosophy with propaganda supporting the religion of Atheism,” and that all “terrorist-mass murderers” are self-described Democrats or liberals (“Is there a pattern developing here?”).
Bruner admits that she’s “biased in favor of Christianity” and isn’t afraid to air that bias. She has already gotten attention for her theory that dinosaurs and humans roamed the Earth at the same time and even cruised Noah’s Ark together (but alas, “[a]fter the flood, the few remaining Behemoths and Leviathans may have become extinct because there was not enough vegetation on earth for them to survive to reproductive age”)—another theory she’s refused to repudiate in the face of widespread ridicule. On the contrary: She elaborated on it in a Facebook post last week:
To the television reporter who asked me while the camera was rolling if I REALLY believe there was a man named Noah who built an Ark and filled it with pairs of animals, and the entire world was covered with water: THE ANSWER IS STILL "YES, I believe the Holy Bible. I believe there was a Great Flood. How do YOU explain fossils of seashells and other sea animals on tops of mountains all over the world? How do you explain the Grand Canyon? You are very naive if you believe a tiny river carved out the Grand Canyon. I believe it took a lot more water than that to carve out the Grand Canyon and other land and rock formations formed by water erosion. You can call me ignorant or intolerant or whatever you want, but I did not make fun of YOUR religion.
That is, unless you’re Muslim. On this subject, Bruner isn’t afraid to take a stand—though “making fun” isn’t really what she's doing. As she wrote on Facebook in November,
Islam is not a religion. Islam is an inhumane totalitarian political ideology with radical religious rules and laws and barbaric punishments for breaking the religious rules. If Islam is a religion it is a cult religion .…The USA should ban Islam and stop all immigration. from Muslim countries because Islam’s stated goal is to conquer the USA and kill the infidels (nonbelievers).
Her education platform is likewise bold. As Bruner, who believes that the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act is an unconstitutional infringement on parents’ and states’ rights, wrote in an “Open letter to constituents” on her website:
I stand for truth in education not political correctness. I believe schools should teach the knowledge and skills that made the USA the leader of the world. I believe the children belong to the parents not the federal government.
I am very concerned that our students are not getting an education that will prepare them to be independent minded, productive citizens. Liberals want to eliminate time-proven methods such as phonics, grammar and spelling rules, and cursive handwriting. Some of them want to eliminate the memorization of the times tables except for the 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s.
I’m totally with her on the need for a cursive comeback, but as for the rest of it—do we laugh, or cry? We could dismiss Bruner’s obviously gonzo worldview if she really were some random fringe candidate printing out pamphlets in her lonely home office. But after Tuesday night, she's become a serious power player.
That's because members of the Texas State Board of Education wield a huge influence not just in Texas but all over the country, simply as a result of the massive size of Texas’ textbook market. Learning materials developed for Texas’ 5 million students are often used in other states as well, which is why the ongoing kerfuffle over historical, um, flourishes in the books—describing slaves as “workers from Africa,” say, or referring to the slave trade as the “Atlantic triangular trade,” or recasting the causes of the Civil War—remains such a big news story.
When, as seems likely after Tuesday’s results, Bruner takes a seat on the board, replacing the moderate Thomas Ratliff, who decided not to pursue re-election, we can expect even more insanity in years to come.