I didn’t pay much attention to Saturday’s elections, since there was nothing on the ballot for me and there were few races of interest around the state. One place where there were races worth watching was in Farmers Branch, and the news from there was excellent.
Ana Reyes became the first Hispanic to win a seat on the Farmers Branch City Council in the new District 1 after historic single-member district balloting forced on the city by a federal judge. The 39-year-old Reyes maintained her 2-to-1 ratio in balloting throughout the night.
Reyes, the district manager of state Rep. Rafael Anchía, beat 48-year-old William Capener, a print shop manager with Tea Party ties.
In another upset, incumbent David Koch, a 51-year-old attorney, lost his re-election bid to 73-year-old Kirk Connally, a retiree who had served on the planning and zoning board for years. Koch fought hard against the voting rights charges and led an effort to appeal the lower court judge’s order. Connally had said he was fed up with all the spending on litigation.
“I’m excited and excited about Kirk Connally’s win as well,” Reyes said in a phone interview. “Together, we can do great things and move forward.”
Single-member districts generally make it easier for minorities to gain political position in venues where there’s been polarization in vote patterns. Voting rights suits have increased in North Texas as Latinos challenge governments with at-large electoral systems that result in all-white city councils and school boards.
The Justice Department sent election monitors to the city on Saturday — for their fourth poll watch since 2007.
Farmers Branch, a suburb of 29,000, has been a fount for litigation since 2006 when it passed an ordinance to bar immigrants in the U.S. illegally from rental housing. The measure led to shouting matches inside and outside of council sessions and a chain of litigation that has cost the city nearly $6 million. A federal judge ruled the latest version of the rental ordinance was unconstitutional and it has yet to be enforced. The ordinance is on appeal.
The acrimony seeded Reyes’ interest in politics in Farmers Branch, where she has lived nearly all her life. She is the daughter of two immigrants from Mexico. The naturalized citizens, Antonio and Maria Reyes, voted for their daughter in the historic election. They were also two of the ten plaintiffs that sued the city of Farmers Branch.
Saturday night, Maria Reyes said she was “very content” with election results. She never hesitated in being a part of the civil rights suit, she said. “We had no representation and now we do.”
Reyes’s campaign treasurer was Amelia Baladez, another of the plaintiffs in the voting rights suit. One of her biggest donors was Bill Brewer, a Dallas corporate attorney whose pro-bono affiliate launched the successful suit against the city of Farmers Branch. The firm, the Bickel & Brewer Storefront, also sued the city over the rental ordinance, inspiring one councilman to criticize the law firm for “bullying.”
[Saturday night], Brewer said, “Farmers Branch is so obviously polarized in voting among the races. It was a suit that needed to be brought. She is going to be great councilwoman.”
BOR had a preview of the race and a brief chat with CM-elect Reyes that you should read. Farmers Branch has been a cesspool of racism and xenophobia these past few years, spending millions of dollars in pointless efforts to punish people who committed no crime. The elections of Reyes and Connally are the first step towards draining that swamp and getting Farmers Branch back on the road to productivity and good stewardship of its resources. Congratulations to Ana Reyes and Kirk Connally, and best of luck to both of you on Farmers Branch City Council.