Intelligent Design Suffers Further Setback in Midterms

Intelligent design (ID) received a drubbing yesterday, with pro-evolution candidates taking control of the Kansas State Board of Education and strengthening their representation on the Ohio State Board of Education. Many scientists also cheered the defeat of Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), one of the most politically influential supporters of the ID movement.

In Ohio, incumbent board member Deborah Owens Fink lost decisively to Tom Sawyer, a former teacher and U.S. representative. Owens Fink had repeatedly attempted to dilute evolution in Ohio's science standards. Sawyer, who contested the seat at the urging of Ohio scientists, will help swell the ranks of moderates on the 19-member board. The scientists' group, Help Ohio Public Education, is also celebrating the victory of three other "pro-science" candidates including incumbent G. R. "Sam" Schloemer, who had described his candidacy as a referendum on ID. Schloemer won by a 2-to-1 margin over John Hritz, an ID supporter. The only pro-ID candidate elected Tuesday was Susan Haverkos.

In Kansas, supporters of evolution were already assured a majority on the 10-member state board after a primary election earlier this year. But that 6-4 edge was all they could manage yesterday, as two conservative incumbents retained their seats. "That shows the state is still very split on intelligent design. We have to continue educating the public about the issue," says Sally Cauble, a moderate Republican from southwest Kansas who will make her debut on the board next month.

Although the ID debate was not an issue in most congressional races, voters may have punished Santorum because the once-vocal ID supporter tried to distance himself from the movement after a federal judge struck down an attempt last year by the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to insert ID into the curriculum. That "flip-flop" probably cost him both moderate as well as conservative votes, says Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller. Santorum's defeat will further reduce the influence of ID proponents on the national level, predicts Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California.

In another hot-button education issue, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibits any public institution from using affirmation action in hiring or contracting practices. The ban, adopted by a margin of 58% to 42%, applies to any school district, college or university, or government agency showing preferential treatment based on race, gender, or ethnicity. The vote comes 3 years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld an affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Michigan but knocked down the school's formula for admitting undergraduate students that involved awarding points based on race.

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