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Board of Education's Ratliff concerned about possible successor

Mount Pleasant Republican Thomas Ratliff
State of Texas
Mount Pleasant Republican Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff, who has represented Northeast Texas on the Texas State Board of Education since 2011, chose not to run for re-election in this year's Republican Party primary election. The top two finishers in that contest - Mary Lou Bruner and Keven M. Ellis - will face one another in a May 24 runoff election, as neither candidate won a majority of the March 1 vote. Ratliff is candid in his concerns about Bruner, who he sees as someone who would be a "distraction" on the 15-member body that manages the state's Permanent School Funs and sets textbook standards for the state's public schools.

Mark Haslett: If you’re looking for a good example of the current rift in today's Republican Party, there’s a pretty good one here in Northeast Texas. It’s the upcoming runoff election to determine who will represent Northeast Texas on the State Board of Education. Incumbent Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant chose not to run for re-election. In last week’s primary, none of the Republicans seeking the party's nomination for the office won a majority of votes, so the top two finishers are headed for a May 24th runoff. Those two are Lufkin chiropractor Keven M. Ellis and Mary Lou Bruner, a retired schoolteacher from Mineola. Bruner got the most votes and she’s also received nationwide attention for some bizarre statements on social media. Current board member Ratliff is not a neutral in the upcoming election. He has no affiliation with Ellis or his campaign, but Ratliff is supporting Ellis.

Thomas Ratliff: It’s up to him whether he would want me to endorse him or not. As I’m sure you’re well aware, I have been somewhat of a controversial figure within the Republican Party because some in our party don’t believe I’m pure enough because I refer to myself as a moderate republican. And I use the term moderate as an adjective, not as a slur like some of them do. And so I don’t want Kevin to immediately pick up any baggage from me. He may be more conservative than me. We haven’t really gotten into an ideological discussion. The reason I’m supporting him is because he’s president of the Lufkin School Board and has children in public schools and understands what public schools and East Texas and Northeast Texas needs. As opposed to Mary Lou, who I think graduated from high school some 50 years ago, and I don’t know that she’s had kids in the public schools for a couple of decades. And so, education is changing. It is not a static environment, and we need somebody that understands what public schools and Texas are experiencing now.

Haslett: Ratliff first sought a place on the 15-member board six years ago. He’s currently Vice Chair of the body that manages the state’s Permanent School Fund and sets textbook standards for school districts. Bruner’s odd statements include saying President Obama was once a gay prostitute and that climate change is a hoax devised by Karl Marx. Ratliff was asked whether he thought that Bruner’s online persona was relevant to the election. 

Ratliff: Honestly, I mean I do think it is relevant. And honestly, I think it is part of the reason I originally ran for the board was right after all the notoriety we got nationally for the social studies adoption by my predecessor. And I think the problem with somebody like this on the board is it creates and distractions and ridicule and embarrassment and notoriety of the worst fashion. And so people don’t feel like the State Board has their eye on the ball or they’re not doing good work. I do think the board is in such a place that they will be able to work around her. They will still, by and large, get to the right conclusion from my perspective.  You know, I referred to her as a human rain delay, because based on what I’ve seen, and I’ve met her personally, and based on what I’ve seen personally and electronically, she’s going to be a distraction both inside the board and outside the board.

Haslett: Thomas Ratliff, the Mount Pleasant Republican who’s represented Northeast Texas on the State Board of Education since 2011. The Republican runoff election to determine Ratliff’s successor in the GOP, again, is May 24th. For KETR News, this is Mark Haslett. 

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.