Viola not endorsed
Viola not endorsed
By Mary Clarkin, The Hutchinson News, - 6/7/06

McPherson Republican Donna Viola failed to grab an endorsement from the MAINstream Coalition's political action committee because of the State Board of Education candidate's stand on teaching evolution.

Viola is considered the moderate challenging the conservative incumbent, Kenneth Willard, R-Hutchinson, in the Aug. 1 primary.

However, Viola's position that it is acceptable to teach creationism and intelligent design in the science classroom cost her MAIN*PAC's backing, according to Jim Borthwick, co-chairman of the committee.

"We agree on most issues," Borthwick said of Viola.

He also said that if MAIN*PAC misunderstood Viola, it would reconsider endorsement.

Also running for the State Board of Education from the 7th District are Mullinville Republican M.T. Liggett, a frequent candidate for public office, and Rice County Democrat Jack Wempe, a former state legislator.

The political action committee endorsed Wempe.

Evolution and Viola

McPherson USD 418 school board member Viola objected to the conservative-dominated State Board of Education's vote in November 2005 to change science standards.

Those changes called for critical thinking on the theory of evolution, and a new definition of science. Proponents of creationism and intelligent design - a belief that a higher power created the universe - saluted the education board.

While Viola said she would not have voted as Willard did for the changes, she also told The News early this year, "I don't want to make a big deal out of evolution."

"We feel like the student makes up his own mind," she said.

The state's science standards do not dictate what is said - or not said - in science classrooms. Rather, they are aimed at establishing expectations for testing.

"The state gives districts considerable latitude to do curriculum," Department of Education Communications Director David Awbrey said.

"They are just suggestions, guidelines," Awbrey said of the science standards. "What really goes on in the classroom is really local stuff."

Awbrey also noted that by the time the federal mandate for testing high school students' science knowledge kicks in, the state possibly could adopt the national ACT exam as the test fulfilling No Child Left Behind.

Separating church and state

Formed in Johnson County in 1993, the acronym in MAINstream Coalition stands for Moderate Alliance of Informed Neighbors. The group's stated purpose is "to promote and preserve constitutional freedoms, which are threatened by political extremists."

In particular, the nonpartisan organization has focused on adhering to the separation of church and state. As of Monday, Viola was unaware of MAIN*PAC's June 1 endorsement, and she could not explain why she didn't win its support.

Representatives of the Kansas Alliance for Education and the MAINstream Coalition interviewed Viola last month in Hutchinson. She noted that the Kansas Alliance For Education endorsed her and she recently received $500 from that organization's political action committee.

MAIN*PAC also weighed in on board of education races outside Willard's district:

* District 1: Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, was the only official candidate for the political action committee to consider in May, and it endorsed incumbent Waugh. A Kansas City Democrat, Jesse Hall, just entered the race.

* District 3: Moderate Republican Harry McDonald and Democrat Don Weiss, both of Olathe, are taking aim at the seat occupied by Republican conservative John Bacon, Olathe. The group has endorsed McDonald and Weiss.

* District 5: Conservative Connie Morris, R-St. Francis, is seeking another term, and the committee backed two moderates: Tim Cruz, D-Garden City, and Sally Cauble, R-Liberal.

* District 9: Conservative Iris Van Meter, R-Thayer, isn't running again, but her son-in-law Brad Patzer, a Neodesha Republican, is a candidate. The committee endorsed moderates Kent Runyan, D-Pittsburg, and Jana Shaver, R-Independence.