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The TFN on the SBOE

Hair Balls attended a session at the TDP convention held by the Texas Freedom Network about electing a less-embarrassing State Board of Education.

More than 600 people packed a ballroom at the George R Brown Convention Center on Saturday morning for TFN’s session, “Ignorance Is Not a Texas Value: Electing a Smarter State Board of Education,” at the Texas Democratic Convention.

“We are reaching out, and it seems to be working,” said TFN’s Kathy Miller, who led the session. “Four years ago, even two years ago, we’d never have seen 600 people show up at a workshop.”

Turnout at the polls is key in SBOE elections, Miller told the group. While each State Board of Education member represents roughly 1.6 million people in Texas, voter knowledge of candidates is often limited and turnout typically low. And those who turn out can have a major impact on the board, which stands in the balance between a bloc of social conservatives and their moderate-liberal counterparts.

Even those whose fate to return to the board seems assured can go down in an instant. During the party primaries at the end of May, incumbents Gail Lowe and Michael Soto were taken out. Sue Melton, a retired Lampasas educator, knocked off long-time member and former chair Lowe. Soto, up for a second turn, was taken down by a social worker Marisa Perez, whom few in the party claimed to know.

Such turns in election results indicate that the results aren’t always pegged on conservative versus liberal. Miller said the problem is that most voters simply don’t know their State Board of Education members, and only a few care until groups like the Texas Freedom Network or the Liberty Institute rally the party base.

A description of the session, which I was unfortunately unable to attend, is here, and a picture showing how well-attended it was is here. The lesson that I take from this year’s results is that while there is an admirable amount of attention and resources devoted to races involving whackjob candidates, there needs to be an equivalent amount of attention and effort devoted to boring races that feature good incumbents like Michael Soto. TFN and ParentPAC do a good job in the former – Lord knows, we need to shine a bright light on what these yahoos say, and we need to rally around those who are brave and decent enough to stand against them – but there’s nobody doing the latter. And it was nobody, myself included, that saw Soto’s shocking loss to Marisa Perez coming. The reason why nobody saw it coming is because it never occurred to any rational observer that one of the best members on the SBOE could possibly lose to a last-minute filer who didn’t do any campaigning. Well, now we know beyond any doubt what can happen in races where the voters don’t know anything about the candidates. What are we going to do about it?

Perez, by the way, has finally updated (and renamed) her Facebook page, with an announcement about a fundraiser being held tomorrow. I suppose that means she is running in November, so that’s good news. Hopefully, some of the people who have been wondering who she is will attend and then tell the rest of us about her. I want to stress that she could turn out to be a fine Member. We just have no way of knowing right now, unlike Michael Soto. All we can do is hope.

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