Photo Illustrations by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast
| By Sean Patrick Cooper
Steve Vernon lives with his wife in a meticulously manicured country club community secured by watchmen in guard booths. He is also a leader of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a conservative, 20,000-member organization based in Naples that spearheaded a successful grassroots effort last year to pass the nation’s first state bill allowing residents to demand a public hearing on local school textbooks. With its passage, parents of students—as well as anyone living in a given district—can challenge the books a school is using to teach their community’s children. It was a seemingly parochial piece of civic legislation, but it was one with potentially great implications for science education in the United States.
On a bright afternoon in September, as Hurricane Florence was lashing the shores of states just a few hundred miles north, Vernon, a retired IBM contracts negotiator and Marine Corps veteran, answered his door barefoot, wearing shorts and a green T-shirt. He had joined the Florida Citizens’ Alliance as a board member in 2012, initially inspired by the organization’s gun-rights advocacy. In fidelity to the IBM corporate ethos, Vernon and others in the Alliance recognized that the group wasn’t optimizing its potential