DALLAS (AP) – The face of the Texas Board of Education could change with all 15 spots up for re-election this year because of redistricting. And as in many other races across the state, candidates are asking voters to decide how conservative the board should be.

Republican Thomas Ratliff ran for the Texas State Board of Education two years ago because he wanted to change the emphasis from politics to education. Now, the lobbyist from Mount Pleasant says the choice for voters in East Texas’ District 9 in Tuesday’s Republican primary is “whether they want to go back to what we had before, which is a lot of talk about politics and not a lot of talk about education.”

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Ratliff, the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and a moderate voice on the board, faces Randy Stevenson, a financial adviser from Tyler, who counters that in contrast to his opponent, he is “a clear consistent conservative voice.” Stevenson was part of a social conservative bloc when he served on the board from 1995 to 1999 before choosing not to run again in 1998.

Currently, there are four Democrats and 11 Republicans on the board, with six of those Republicans considered part of the social conservative bloc. The Board of Education positions are among hundreds of races Texas voters will cast ballots in Tuesday during the state’s primary. The positions hold significant influence: The board has responsibility for establishing the state’s public school curriculum, approving textbooks and managing the state’s permanent school fund. In the next few years, the board is set to adopt new science and social studies textbooks.

An intense fight over evolution and intelligent design theory in science curriculum put a national spotlight on the board in 2009 when it adopted standards that encourage public schools to scrutinize “all sides” of scientific theory.

“There is a unique opportunity this year for voters to change the face of public education in Texas,” said Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog of the far right.

In other notable races in the Republican primary:

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— For the District 8 spot in southeastern Texas, social conservative incumbent Barbara Cargill, who currently chairs the board, faces Linda Ellis, a consultant from The Woodlands and former teacher who has said on her website that she’s “watched in horror as ideologues took over” the board. Cargill, of The Woodlands, is a former teacher and founder and director of a science camp who writes on her website that she supports history curriculum that emphasizes patriotism, anti-abortion health textbooks and science textbooks that present evolution as a theory.

— For the District 7 spot in southeastern Texas, incumbent David Bradley, one of the board’s social conservatives, faces a challenge by businesswoman Rita Ashley. Bradley works in the insurance and real estate business in Beaumont and Ashley is a former teacher from Beaumont who currently works as a jewelry designer.

— For the District 15 spot that includes the Panhandle and parts of West Texas, consultant Anette Carlisle of Amarillo faces attorney Marty Rowley of Amarillo. They are vying for the spot now filled by Bob Craig, who is not seeking re-election.

— For the District 12 spot that includes Collin County and parts of Dallas County, incumbent George Clayton faces three challengers, including Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, whom he defeated in the 2010 primary to assume the post. Clayton is the special projects coordinator for a Dallas high school. Miller is vice chairman of a Dallas commercial real estate company. Also running for the post are consultant Gail Spurlock of Richardson and business owner Pam Little of Fairview.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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