Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Wednesday, September 27

Ohio Bd of Ed 7th: Sawyer (D) Campaigns Hard to Unseat Owens Fink (R) UPDATED

Anyone who thought former congressman and Akron mayor Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) might not campaign very aggressively in his challenge to incumbent Deborah Owens Fink (R-Bath Township) for the 7th District Ohio Board of Edducation seat has learned otherwise by now. Sawyer is displaying the energy and motivation now that some thought lacking in his primary campaign for Congress earlier this year. The explanation may be simple -- education has been a central concern for Sawyer throughout his career as a teacher, mayor and legislator, and he sees a genuine opportunity to improve Ohio's public education system -- but the effect is profound.

Sawyer introduces his campaign in this video:

[NOTE: I have removed the embedded link, but the video is available here.]

As reported in the Akron Beacon Journal last month here, University of Akron marketing professor Owens Fink was a leader in the recent "effort to adopt a controversial science curriculum standard and lesson plan calling for a critical analysis of the theory of evolution." The state board scrapped the curriculum changes in February, after a federal judge in Pennsylvania rejected the teaching of intelligent design there as "religion masquerading as science."

Sawyer was encouraged to run by Help Ohio Public Education, a group recently formed by Case Western Reserve University professors Patricia Princehouse and Lawrence Krauss. They told the Beacon Journal that the curriculum changes supported by Owens Fink promoted intelligent design and were an effort to insert religion into the science curriculum, and that Owens Fink "consistently thumbs her nose at education experts, science experts and parents." Owens Fink objected, calling Princehouse and Krauss and other scientists supportive of Sawyer "members of the dogmatic scientific community" who want to stifle discussion about "the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory."

Sawyer said that his campaign is not narrowly focused on the debate over teaching evolution, but embraces the "broad range of the curriculum -- the building blocks that comprise a thorough efficient education," and "science education is an important part of that." He also said that he will campaign about addressing school funding woes and a "stronger role for the state board of education."

Scott Piepho, Sawyer's Communications Director, reports that Owens Fink was a guest on the "What's Right What's Left" show on Cleveland Christian Talk station 1220 WHKW last night. Much of the show was devoted to criticizing the theory of evolution and scientists who support it. At one point a participant said, "If you are Christian, vote for Debbie. If you believe in evolution, abortion and sin, vote for Sawyer." At the end of the interview Owens Fink declared that by using "word of mouth" she can win this election.

Piepho notes that as a Board of Education campaign, they are in favor of teaching evolution, take no position on abortion, and are against sin. "Time will tell whether appearances like this will be the core of her campaign or whether this is just a targeted message," Piepho said. "In the meantime, we look forward to Ms. Fink actually discussing education sometime."

UPDATE:
A big boost for the Sawyer campaign is reported in the New York Times today here. Several prominent scientists, including Clinton science advisors John H. Gibbons and Neal Lane, Nobel laureates Peter Agre and Alfred Gilman, and Susan F. Wood, who resigned from the Food and Drug Administration last year over the delay in approving Plan B emergency contraception, have formed Scientists and Engineers for America, an organization dedicated to electing politicians “who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy.” SEforA is a 527 organization, meaning it can engage in electoral politics, and it will focus on Internet advertising, speakers and other events. The group is looking at the Senate race in Virginia; a stem cell ballot issue in Missouri; Congressional races in Washington State; and "the question of intelligent design in Ohio." Although Sawyer is not mentioned by name, his race falls squarely in the latter category.

The group will work on broader issues affecting science, not just particular elections:
In what it described as a Bill of Rights for scientists and engineers, the group said that researchers who receive federal funds should be free to discuss their work publicly, and that appointments to federal scientific advisory committees should be based on scientific qualifications, not political beliefs. It said the government should not support science education programs that 'include concepts that are derived from ideology,' an apparent reference to creationism and its ideological cousin, intelligent design.

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