The Texas Senate rejected on Thursday the re-appointment of Republican Don McLeroy, a creationist, as chairman of the State Board of Education.
The Senate voted 19-11 for McLeroy, short of the two-thirds majority required.
Opponents say the board has become increasingly divided under the leadership of McLeroy, who has pushed for the teaching of "weaknesses" of evolution in Texas public schools.
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) argued in a debate that McLeroy is more concerned with fighting his ideological battles than with leading the board.
Senate Republicans rejected the criticisms and accused Democrats of turning the nomination process into an "inquisition" unfairly attacking McLeroy's views, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Earlier this year, the state Board of Education approved new science standards that require teachers to encourage students to "critique" and examine "all sides" of scientific theories. McLeroy had also introduced amendments requiring students to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection of species but the proposals were rejected.
McLeroy, a devout Christian, has been criticized by the Texas Freedom Network – which monitors and works to counter "the religious right" – for dragging the board into a series of divisive and unnecessary culture war battles over such issues as evolution and sex education.
Although the Republican has pushed for science classes to cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution, he has not supported the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in the classrooms and has expressed no desire to change the curriculum requiring that evolution be taught in high school biology classes.
The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, said the move to reject his nomination "can only be attributed to political retribution."
"The travesty here is that, to my knowledge, no one has put forth any legitimate charges that McLeroy was not fair-minded in how he chaired TSBOE meetings," the institute said in a statement, noting that Texas evolutionists are making power grabs to promote their agenda.
Watson insisted on Thursday that the debate over McLeroy's nomination to continue chairing the board was neither about evolution versus creationism nor about partisanship, but rather about his leadership as chairman.
However, Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) believes "there will be a perception ... that we are applying a religious test for serving in this state," intentional or not, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.
"If we vote against Dr. McLeroy, the perception among many Texans will be that if you are a conservative and believe in the infallibility and literacy of the Bible, there is no need to apply to be on the State Board of Education," Ogden said.
McLeroy was appointed chairman of the board in 2007 by Gov. Rick Perry, who nominated him to a second term. After the rare rejection by the Senate, Perry will now have to appoint a new board leader.