Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

September 12th, 2018:

Interview with Adrienne Bell

Adrienne Bell

CD14 covers Galveston and Jefferson counties, plus part of Brazoria. Those first two counties were the main component of what was once CD09, before Tom DeLay ripped up the map. Its heritage is Democratic – Nick Lampson represented that turf for four terms – but has since gotten away from those roots. Trying to get it back is Adrienne Bell, a native Houstonian and second grade teacher with HISD. A veteran organizer, Bell served as a Deputy Field Director with Battleground Texas, and on the Houston staff for the Obama 2012 election campaign. She and Colin Allred were the only two Texas Democrats in the first wave of endorsements from President Obama; she has since also been endorsed by Democracy for America. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for Congress so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Congressional page.

Sri Kulkarni and Asian voters

Great story.

Sri Kulkarni

Despite its diversity, [CD22] has been a Republican stronghold going back to the days when it was held by former U.S. House Speaker Tom Delay. In 2016, Donald Trump won the district by 8 percentage points while the incumbent tea-party Republican Pete Olson won re-election by nearly 20 points. On paper, this is one of those seats that looks to be immune to a Democratic wave in November.

But Sri Preston Kulkarni, who quit his post in the Trump administration last year and moved back to Texas to challenge Olson, isn’t so sure.

For years, the Texas Democratic Party has bet its future on an imminent, but never-quite-materializing demographic destiny. Eventually, the thinking goes, the rapidly growing Latino population would exercise their political muscle, turning Texas blue. But that hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, Asian Americans are another rapidly growing, low-turnout demographic in the state. As a small, relatively conservative, highly fragmented voting bloc, they’ve attracted far less attention from Democratic operatives. But Asians have undergone a massive political realignment to the left and they could hold the key to Democratic gains in the diversifying purple suburbs of Texas. At least that’s Kulkarni’s bet.

“When I first started, I was told not to bother with the Asian-American vote because they don’t turn out,” Kulkarni told the Observer. “Well, I said, maybe that’s because you’re not reaching out to them.”

[…]

Kulkarni and a small team quickly assembled an intensive outreach program to target the various sub-communities within the district’s diverse Asian-American population. With the help of hundreds of volunteers — many of them in high school and college — Kulkarni has canvassed registered AAPI voters in the district with door-knocking and phone-banking in 13 different languages. Indians are the largest Asian community in the district — more than a third of the AAPI population — and the campaign has volunteers who speak the major Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Telugu, Marathi and Gujarati.

Padma Srinivasam, a longtime Sugar Land resident who emigrated from South India, heard about Kulkarni’s campaign at one of Beto O’Rourke’s town halls in January and immediately joined his volunteer team. A native Tamil speaker, she is charged with calling many of the district’s Tamilians and introducing them to Kulkarni. People are more receptive, she says, not only when she pronounces their name properly but can switch back and forth between languages. “Language is not a barrier here for us,” Srinivasam said. “That’s how we do it, we reach out to all the people.”

Ashok Danda, a volunteer from Katy, helps coordinate outreach to the district’s Telugu speakers, including through a mass Whatsapp chat. “We all speak English, but when you add that little touch it really has an effect,” Danda said. He calls his friends, they call theirs, and soon, Danda is holding a fundraiser for 50 Telugu speakers in his living room.

Volunteers also speak Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese, which are, respectively, two other widely spoken languagesin the district. Kulkarni has made the rounds, too, in the district’s many religious centers — from the Ismaili jamatkhanas and Malayalee churches to the Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras — and reached out to younger Asians in professional groups like the South Asian Bar Association and the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

“The diversity within the AAPI community necessitates what Sri’s campaign is doing. They’re just being super smart about it,” said Deborah Chen, the civic engagement programs director for the Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Houston, a group dedicated to nonpartisan AAPI voter outreach. “That’s the inherent challenge for the AAPI community: It’s an American term. There’s no such thing as an Asian in Asia.”

Put simply, there’s no single way to communicate with “Asian” voters.

The Chron ran its own version of this story a couple of days later. This is the kind of strategy that makes you slap your forehead and say “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” (And, sadly, Why aren’t we doing this better now?”) I wish Kulkarni had named names, because this kind of counter-productive “advice” should be a career-limiting move by whoever gave it. To be sure, this is labor intensive, and turning out non-habitual voters is often a difficult task, but Asian-American voters are increasingly Democratic and there’s a lot of room for growth. It makes all the sense in the world to do this, and we just may have the right parlay of candidate and political environment to make it work. Erica Greider has more.

The state of special education at HISD

Still a lot of work to be done.

Houston ISD’s quality of special education services remains in “grave” shape due to inadequate staffing, confusion among employees and a lack of accountability, according to a district-appointed committee reviewing the quality of programs provided to students with disabilities.

In a draft report expected to be presented to HISD trustees Thursday, members of the district’s Special Education Ad-Hoc Committee said the district needs to better address its many shortcomings and school board members should provide more oversight of efforts to improve delivery of special education services. The committee, comprised of district leaders, special education experts and HISD parents, has been meeting since February 2017, in response to a Houston Chronicle investigation that found a years-long pattern of Texas school districts — including HISD — denying access to special education services.

The committee’s 11-page draft report, which is expected to undergo some revisions before Thursday, echoes many of the findings documented earlier this year in a third-party review by American Institutes of Research. The nonprofit found HISD needed more staff members dedicated to special education, better clarity about delivering services to students and clearer systems for carrying out essential programs for students with disabilities, among other areas of improvement.

The committee is expected to issue several recommendations to HISD’s nine-member school board. They include ordering HISD administrators to issue a detailed response to the American Institutes of Research report and mandating regular reports to trustees about the district’s plans for improving special education services.

“It’s going to take years of persistence and commitment to special education to get the district to where we want it to be,” said HISD Trustee Anne Sung, who chaired the committee.

[…]

Kara DeRocha, an HISD parent and special education advocate who sat on the committee, said district leaders need a consistent, detailed and well-managed plan to satisfy long-frustrated families.

“The biggest problem in HISD has always been follow-through,” DeRocha said. “There are a lot of great plans that come out, but the devil is in the details and making sure they do what they said they’d do with fidelity.”

See here for all previous blogging on the topic. HISD had embraced the state’s artificial limits on special education in the past, and then-Superintendent Carranza set up the review of the district’s practices last January. The state is also working on a reform plan, but all these things will cost money. I agree with Kara DeRocha that the devil is in the details, but look at the budget appropriations first. It remains to be seen that the Lege will deal with this in an adequate manner.