Mary Lou Bruner has suggested that President Obama was a prostitute and that humans roamed the earth with dinosaurs, all without hurting her status as the frontrunner for an open seat on the Texas Board of Education.
Comments she made recently to a group of superintendents referencing questionable statistics and non-existent meetings with school officials have provided the only glimmer of hope for her opponents that she could be defeated in the runoff election Tuesday.
Bruner, a 68-year-old retired teacher who has never held public office before, earned 48 percent of the vote in the March primary with fierce anti-Common Core rhetoric and a call for “truth in education not political correctness.” In a February open letter on her campaign website, Bruner proposed a return to the basics like phonics, cursive, and times tables, which her Republican runoff opponent, Keven Ellis, has pointed out are already included in the state curriculum.
“I am very concerned that our students are not getting an education that will prepare them to be independent minded, productive citizens,” Bruner wrote. “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.”
Her rallying cry to boot the federal government from public schools has earned her the support of Texas Tea Partiers, and her outlandish claims and indulgence in conspiracy theories has drawn the attention of the national media.
For example, Bruner claimed on Facebook that the federal government wants to use pre-K programs to “push its socialistic and multicultural agenda” and to teach kids that “homosexual marriage is just as good as a marriage with a father and a mother,” according to a screenshot captured by the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith.
— Evan Smith (@evanasmith) April 22, 2016
Bruner has since made her Facebook posts private, but the Texas Freedom Network has archived a trove of posts from the candidate. She has called for the U.S. to ban Islam, which she claims “is not a real religion.” She claimed that dinosaurs shared space with humans on Noah’s Ark. And she said that “abortionists” shared some of the responsibility for the shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic last year.
Voters seem to have been unfazed by Bruner’s outlandish remarks on Facebook, and Bruner has defended them.
“I’m not ashamed of anything that I have ever said,” she told the Texas Tribune in February. “If I’m on the State Board of Education, I’m going to speak up for the things that I believe because I have a First Amendment right.”
If elected, Bruner will sit on the 15-member state board of education, which sets the state curriculum and suggests a list of textbooks for schools. Because of its size, Texas has had a large influence on textbooks used across the United States, though the state’s influence has waned in recent years.
Although Bruner is a newcomer to politics, she’s spoken out about state standards and textbooks before. In 2010, she expressed concern to the state board of education that “Middle Easterners” were “using their influence to get what they want in the textbooks.” That same year, the Texas board approved new high school standards that put a conservative spin on U.S. history.
The only crack that has formed in Bruner’s stronghold on the race is a recent meeting with a group of East Texas superintendents that went off the rails. During her speech to the superintendents, Bruner cited incorrect statistics, drawing protests from the audience.
When she claimed that close to half of the students in the state were enrolled in special education programs, people in the audience told her that was incorrect, according to video posted by Texas television station KLTV. Bruner then asked, “Is that wrong?” before telling the superintendents that she would like to be informed.
And when Bruner claimed that she met with the superintendent of the Mineola school district, that superintendent stood up and told the crowd that the two had not in fact had a meeting.
The meeting lost Bruner the endorsement of a Tea Party group in Texas, Grassroots America, We the People, last week. The group said they asked Bruner to correct the statistics she used at the meeting with East Texas superintendents, and then they withdrew their endorsement when she did not issue a statement.
“We are all disappointed to have to take the strong measure of withdrawing our endorsement for a candidate,” the group’s executive director, JoAnn Fleming, said in a statement. “Since the institution of this organization in 2009, we have never had to take such an action however, this organization requires accountability and personal responsibility from the candidates it endorses. We have always made that abundantly clear.”
Bruner apologized for the remarks she made at the meeting with superindetendents in an interview that aired Sunday on Dallas television station WFAA. She said that she meant to refer to students in special programs, not special education, and asked for Grassroots America to reconsider its endorsement.
It’s not yet clear whether Grassroots America’s reversal will hurt Bruner on Tuesday, especially given that the group’s statement came only about a week before the runoff election. She’s popular with Tea Party supporters, who tend to come out in force in Texas GOP primaries.
Dan Quinn, the communications director at the Texas Freedom Network, told TOM that “assumption has been for some weeks now that Bruner would win the runoff.” He’s unsure how Grassroots America’s denouncement will impact the race.
“I suspect it will hurt her somewhat but it’s hard to know for sure whether or not the cake’s already baked,” he told TPM.
Facebook screengrabs via Texas Freedom Network