Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Carole Mims Galloway

HISD Trustee runoff overview

There are other races on the ballot this Saturday.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the board president, faces pastor Larry Williams in the District 2 race to represent north Houston.

In southeast Houston’s District 3, Jose Leal, a former HISD administrator, is challenging Manuel Rodriguez Jr., the board’s first vice president.

The contests have the potential to shake up a board that will see at least two new faces in January. District 4 trustee Paula Harris did not seek re-election, and District 8 trustee Juliet Stipeche lost in the November general election to Diana Davila, a former board member.

Political consultant Marc Campos said he doubts Skillern-Jones and Rodriguez are at serious risk, even though the other incumbent on the November ballot was ousted and they both failed to garner more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright.

“I think Stipeche was just out-campaigned,” Campos said. “It wasn’t so much, ‘Throw out the bums.’ ”

[…]

Jose Leal

Leal, a political novice, mostly funded his own campaign with no major endorsements. For the runoff, he has secured the backing of the Houston Federation of Teachers union and the Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group for the poor.

The union hopes a victory by Leal will ensure enough votes on the board to overhaul the Houston Independent School District’s bonus program and teacher evaluation system. Both hold teachers accountable for students’ test scores using a statistical formula.

Leal said he, like the union, opposes the formula.

“You have people that are not teachers, and they’re writing an equation that does not make sense to the people that are teaching,” he said.

However, Leal said, he thinks test scores can be useful. For example, he said, when he was a school counselor, he would review the results and schedule teachers who were strongest in certain subjects to work with struggling students.

Leal, 57, started in HISD as a janitor and retired in 2011 as a dean at Johnston Middle School. He now works as an assistant principal for the Houston Can Academies charter school.

Here’s the interview I did with Rhonda Skillern-Jones; she’s the only one of the four I talked to, though I did interview Rodriguez in 2011. Jose Leal’s webpage is here and Larry Williams’ is here. I tend to agree with Campos that both incumbents are good bets to win, though Leal has picked up some support and may give Rodriguez a run for his money. Skillern-Jones ran unopposed for the then-open seat in District II (this is a point of contention in this race; Williams had previously run against the prior Trustee, Carol Mims Galloway) so this is her first real race. If you live in one of these districts, what if anything are you seeing in the runoffs?

On helping District B

District B Council Member Jerry Davis is taking a direct approach to improving his district.

CM Jerry Davis

Davis hopes to inspire through his do-it-yourself approach a strengthened ethic of self-reliance. The answers to the challenges of District B, and there are many – high poverty, low graduation rates, abandoned homes, illegal dumping and crumbling streets – often lie with the residents of the district, not with City Hall, he said.

Davis is trying to fix District B one lot at a time. He frequently goes into the field in khakis or shorts to do trash pickups and weed lots. He is trying to find a way to make free estate planning advice available to reduce the number of homes that fall into decay once the family matriarch dies without a will. He has convened a task force to strategize ways to combat illegal dumping. He has formed a District B advisory council, not just to get feedback on what needs fixing, but to ask attendees what they intend to do about the issues they raise. On Saturday, he led a march at Tidwell Park to promote literacy in a district where just 31 percent of residents have high school diplomas.

His approach differs in emphasis from that of his predecessors. Jarvis Johnson, who served six years as District B councilman until last December, lauded his successor’s willingness to toil in the trenches. Johnson himself focused much of his energy on wooing developers. It is a matter of impact, Johnson explained.

“I didn’t want to chase my tail. The only way you change a community is by creating development,” Johnson said. Cutting weeds down works for a short time, Johnson said. Then the weeds grow back.

“When you can build on a vacant lot, it no longer is a weeded lot. It no longer is a dump site,” he said.

Johnson talks about luring a Joe V’s discount grocery store and a residential development known as Leland Woods to the district more than he does about his cleanup days.

Carol Mims Galloway, the District B councilwoman from 2000-2005, made roads, bridges and drainage her main concern. The district became the leading recipient of city capital improvement project funds on her watch.

“If you don’t lay the foundation, how are you going to attract businesses?” Galloway asked. She questioned whether Davis had a true feel for the district given that he only recently returned to live there. Even as he campaigned for office last year, Davis continued to claim a homestead property tax exemption on a house in Pearland.

There’s merit in both approaches, but it’s also somewhat of a chicken-and-egg question. District B needs cleanup and infrastructure, and it also needs to attract not just new businesses but new residents. The Fifth Ward will be the last bastion of affordable property in the urban core. It’s very much in the city’s best interest to help District B flourish. We can argue about the details later, but let’s get a commitment to the goal first.

Your 2011 electoral lineup

There are many candidates running for office this year. Some of them have a better rationale for running than others, but thankfully for them that’s not a requirement.

A flurry of late filings to run for city office Wednesday filled out an election ballot that left only two Houston officials unopposed for re-election in November.

The city’s second-highest elected official, Controller Ronald Green, will run unopposed for a second two-year term as the city’s chief financial officer. Two-term District E Councilman Mike Sullivan also is unopposed.

Mayor Annise Parker has five challengers, but their combined campaign bank accounts total less than $5,000, compared with the $2.3 million Parker reported as of June 30.

You can see the full lineup here. There are a few oddities. The story list an Avery Ayers for District B and a Terence Jewett for District D, but the City Secretary does not. Similarly, the Chron only has Brad Batteau challenging CM Melissa Noriega in At Large #3, but the City Secretary has had Chris Carmona listed since early in the day yesterday. Also, there had been a candidate named Sergio Leal on the City Secretary’s page in At Large #4 before yesterday, but he has apparently dropped out. For that matter, I thought I had seen Jewett listed earlier, but at this point I couldn’t swear to it. Anyone know anything about these discrepancies?

There are two additions to the Mayor’s race: Jack O’Connor, who had previously been in At Large #5, and Dave Wilson – yes, that Dave Wilson – who presumably didn’t feel that the rest of the field hated gay people enough. I have no idea what made O’Connor decide to switch races. From what I can see, politically speaking he’s an Anglo Fernando Herrera, without the firefighters’ endorsement. There’s an anti-Parker vote out there, but I don’t see how the entrance of O’Connor or Wilson expands it in any way. They’re all fighting for the same 30% ± ε that was always going to vote against the Mayor. Had someone from the other end of the political spectrum jumped in, that might have made things more interesting. Wait till 2013, I guess. Speaking of which, now that both Ben Hall and Paul Bettencourt are officially non-candidates, can we please declare a moratorium on quoting them in any election-related story until after this election is over? Thank you.

What last minute surprises there were took place in the HISD races. First, we had a last minute dropout:

Rhonda Skillern-Jones, a mother of five who is active in the advocacy group HISD Parent Visionaries, confirms that she has filed to run for the District II seat now held by Carol Mims Galloway.

Galloway, who praised Skillern-Jones at a recent HISD board meeting, is expected to withdraw her application for re-election.

And withdraw she did. I respect Carole Mims Galloway, but I do not like this kind of placeholding. Handing your seat off like that to someone who will not be subject to any kind of scrutiny is not democratic. The voters deserve a choice. Even having a crackpot candidate in opposition would be preferable.

Another candidate discovered that he didn’t live in the district that he thought he lived in.

The Houston school board manager today notified Arturo “Art” Huerta, who had filed last month to run against trustee and board president Paula Harris, that he may not run for that seat because he does not live in the boundaries of the redrawn district.

The surprise came on the last day to file to run for the board. Like those of other governmental entities, the redistricting was done as a result of the new U.S. census data.

“I wanted to inform you that due to recent redistricting of HISD trustee boundaries, I have confirmed that your residential address of […] Vermont Street is in precinct 38,” board manager Suzanne Harrison emailed Huerta this morning, “and although precinct 38 is ‘split,’ your street falls within HISD Trustee District 8, not District 4 as we had originally discussed. I had this confirmed with the Harris County Voter Registrar this morning. Therefore, you will now be running against incumbent trustee Juliet Stipeche, Trustee for HISD District 8.”

[…]

Huerta said he will not seek election in District VIII, so he is out of the school board races for good this year.

“I have no interest in running against Juliet Stipeche,” Huerta said. “Her track record’s not the one that motivated me to run for this office.”

[…]

HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said the district’s legal consultant on school board boundaries, Gene Locke, confirmed that Huerta lives in District VIII — and the recent redistricting did not change that. The problem, Spencer said was the color-coded map that Harrison used. Huerta’s address looked like it was in District IV based on the color coding, which didn’t account for the precinct being divided into different school board districts.

I have sympathy for Huerta, who says he spent a bunch of his own money on signs, but I wonder if he was at that same address four years ago. If so, perhaps he remembers who he voted for in the Trustee race that year. For what it’s worth, I tried to find Huerta’s voter registration information so I could see what the Tax Assessor’s office thinks his HISD precinct is, but I could not find a registration for him. I don’t know what to make of that. Texas Watchdog has more on this.

In any event, Paula Harris will have an opponent, one who is familiar to her.

• In District IV, retired HISD principal Davetta Daniels is challenging Paula Harris, the school board president. Harris defeated Daniels four years ago. As we reported earlier today, Arturo “Art” Huerta, who had filed to run for the seat, was notified this morning that he didn’t live in that district and couldn’t run, despite being told by an HISD official last month that he did live in District IV.

• Juliet Stipeche, who represents District VIII, faces a challenge from Dorothy Olmos, who lost to Stipeche last year in a special election for the seat.

• Ramiro Fonseca, a Houston Community College financial aid associate, is running against incumbent Manuel Rodriguez Jr. for the District III seat.

Harris easily defeated Daniels in 2007 (page 19), garnering over 66% of the vote. Harris’ ethics issues may make this race closer, but I don’t really see Daniels, who also ran for At Large #5 in 2009 and received 8% of the vote, getting much traction. As for Olmos, she has run for numerous offices in recent years, and finished third (page 41) in the six-candidate special election for District VIII; as a multiple-time Republican candidate for office, I daresay she was bolstered by the makeup of that particular electorate. I don’t expect Stipeche will have much to worry about this time around. Fonseca, who has racked up a couple of nice endorsements since his entry into the race, looks to be the most interesting challenger.

Oh yeah, there’s also the HCC Trustee races. I have no idea who’s running for what beyond what I’ve said before, I will only list endorsements on my 2011 Election page if I can find a link to them. If an endorsing organization can’t or won’t list their supported candidates on a web page, I don’t see any reason to bother with them. I am listing the Houston Professional Fire Fighters’ endorsements because they were listed in this Houston Politics post, and that does count even if it is a technicality. The other endorsements mentioned in that post have no such luck. Whether you’re an endorsing organization or a candidate, if you want me to list your endorsements, show me the link.

UPDATE: I sent an email to story author Chris Moran to ask about Carmona in At Large 3, and was informed that his exclusion in the story was an error; there should be a correction in the online edition by now. CM Noriega does indeed have two opponents.

The other races

In addition to the city of Houston races, I am trying to follow the HISD and HCC Trustee elections as well. I say “trying” because there’s just no information out there that I can find. For one thing, though there are seven such races this year – four in HISD, three in HCC, including one open seat – I am unaware of a second candidate in any race. HISD Trustees Paula Harris, Carol Mims Galloway, Manuel Rodriguez, and Juliet Stipeche are up for election. None have opponents that I know of, though there’s a group calling itself “Educators For A Better District IV” that has been attacking Harris and claimed to have a candidate for that race at one point, though that fell through. As for HCC, it’s not at all easy to figure out who’s doing what. You just can’t easily tell from the biographies or from the past election results on Harris Votes whose terms are up. I know Richard Schechter will be on the ballot, and I know that Carroll Robinson is running to fill the slot that Michael P. Williams is leaving behind in his run for City Council, and somewhere along the line I managed to determine that Christopher Oliver was the third one in. At least, I think so – I was unable to duplicate whatever method I used back then to draw that conclusion. There’s got to be a better way than this.

And campaign finance reports, forget it. Google “HISD Trustee Campaign Finance Reports” and you’ll find this page, which contains exactly two reports, Juliet Stipeche’s from January and July. Google “HCCS Trustee Campaign Finance Reports” and you get a Carroll Robinson press release from January and a few links about Jay Aiyer. In other words, a whole lot of nothing.

So I’ll ask you. What do you know about any of these elections? Are there candidates out there, even rumors of candidates, that I’m not hearing about? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.

Two trustees speak about CEP

This week, Carl Whitmarsh forwarded to his list a pair of articles written by HISD trustees on the subject of CEP and the changes that have been proposed by Superintendent Terry Grier. Since that has been such a contentious topic, which took up a fair bit of time in the interviews I did with Grier and with HFT President Gayle Fallon, I figured I’d reproduce them here. The first is from Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, the second from Trustee Carole Mims Galloway. Click on to read them.

(more…)