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Charlie Garza

Why bother campaigning for the SBOE?

Here in Harris County, we were fortunate to have an active Democratic primary between three likable and well-qualified candidates for the nomination in SBOE district 6. All three actively campaigned, each garnered at least one endorsement from a Democratic organization, and in the end everyone is happy with the winner, Traci Jensen. Unfortunately, we seem to be the exception here, as results from Democratic primaries for SBOE around the state were a mixed bag, to say the least. The most shocking result I saw on Tuesday night was the defeat by a 2-1 margin of SBOE 3 incumbent Dr. Michael Soto at the hands of a candidate who didn’t file until the very last minute. The San Antonio Current has the first story I’ve seen about Marisa B. Perez, the woman who knocked off Soto.

The only photo on Marisa Perez's campaign Facebook page

Elected in 2010, Soto had gained support among teachers and education reformers alike because he’d grown into a vocal counterbalance to the board’s social conservative bent, insisting on solid science and scholarship when weighing education standards and textbooks.

“Michael was one of the best State Board members we have ever worked with, period,” said Dan Quinn with the Texas Freedom Network, an organization that closely watches the SBOE for whenever hot topics like sex ed, history (conservative revisionism), or Darwin surface. “He’s smart, effective, and he put education ahead of anything else.”

While Soto raised nearly $43,000 since last summer, according to campaign finance reports, Perez, by all accounts, barely campaigned and didn’t raise or spend a cent. She was off the radar of most local Dems the Current contacted this week.

“I have never seen her or heard of her,” said Todd Hedley, with the Bexar County Democrats’ communications committee. And Perez appears to have little online presence — no campaign website, and a Facebook page offering only that she’s a social worker with the Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services who graduated from Edison High School in 2003 before attending UT Austin.

The few local Dems who’ve actually seen Perez point a May 14 candidate forum she attended alongside Soto (YouTube video here). Pat Galloway, a Bexar Democratic precinct chair, remembered Perez attempting file for the race at the last minute on March 9, the filing deadline. “She walked into our offices here in Bexar County, she tried to file here,” Galloway said. “We told her she had to file with the state. … She drove up to Austin at the last minute.”

The Current left multiple voicemails for Perez this week on the number listed in her filings with the state Democratic party. We’ll update this post with her comments if/when she calls us back.

So how and why did Perez blow Soto out of the water?

SBOE districts are massive. District 3 spans 14 counties, from San Antonio to Edinburg in the Rio Grande Valley, encompassing some 1.7 million constituents — more than double the size of a congressional district. That’s a lot of turf to cover, especially for a down-ballot race.

One longtime Austin-based Democratic strategist and consultant, who asked not to be named in this story, offered a possible explanation for Perez’s unexpected win.

With nearly 80 percent of Texas public school teachers being women, polling shows Latinas are some of the staunchest supporters of public ed. SBOE seats are the only races with education smack dab in the title. So for these board races anchored in Hispanic-heavy districts where candidates lack any real name recognition, women may favor the woman candidate by default, the strategist speculated.

The theory plays out across South Texas’ two other SBOE races. In District 1, stretching from Laredo to El Paso, Democrat Martha Dominguez, an administrator with the El Paso school district, beat out two other candidates with 54 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff in the race without even campaigning. In District 2, which runs from Corpus Christi to the Valley, Celeste Zepeda Sanchez secured 45 percent of the vote, a full 10 points ahead of her Texas State Teachers Association-backed opponent Ruben Cortez Jr. in the three-way race, all despite her reportedly anemic campaign (the two head for a runoff July 31).

“It sticks out like a sore thumb for me,” said the Democratic strategist. “Here you’ve got three women who either didn’t campaign or who campaigned the least in these Hispanic districts, and in each case the woman won outright or came out heavily leading in a runoff.”

The district is a heavily Democratic one, which is a good thing because Perez will face a deranged homophobic nutball named David Williams in November. One hopes she reappears from wherever she’s hiding and lets us know why she wanted to run for the State Board of Education and what she hopes to do if elected.

Meanwhile, over in El Paso there’s a similar mystery involving Martha Dominguez, who easily won a three-way primary in the Republican-held but Democratic-leaning SBOE District 1. The Lion Star Blog was first to report about this, with a followup post on Friday noting that the word around town was that Dominguez had intended to drop out of the race but didn’t come to that decision till it was too late to do so. The El Paso Times wrote about it on Sunday.

Martha Dominguez

Several sources, including some familiar with her, told the El Paso Times that Dominguez informed her family, friends and fellow employees that she did not want to run anymore. That was well before the May 29 primary election, but well after the March deadline to have her name taken off the ballot.

Throughout the campaign, she did not put up any signs or distribute any other campaign literature.

Her “final” campaign finance report, which normally is filed after the election, was filed on May 4, weeks before the primary.

Arlinda Valencia, president of the Ysleta Teachers Association, said everyone around the district knew Dominguez had dropped out.

“Everyone I had talked to told me she had dropped out,” Valencia said. “It was common knowledge.”

Dominguez had talked to Valencia when she entered the race about getting the association’s support.

“She told me she had never been in a political race before and didn’t know what to do, but she wanted our support,” Valencia said. “I told her to call me and one week went by, then another and she never called.”

Valencia said she was told Dominguez dropped out and assumed that is why she never called.

Now people are confused about who the nominee is, and Valencia thinks Dominguez should answer questions.

“It’s like playing a prank or practical joke on the democratic process to enter the race if you have no intention of seeking it,” Valencia said.

The article suggests that a replacement could be named if Dominguez does drop out. To my non-lawyer’s eyes, however, it appears that is not the case.

Sec. 145.035. WITHDRAWN, DECEASED, OR INELIGIBLE CANDIDATE’S NAME OMITTED FROM BALLOT. A candidate’s name shall be omitted from the ballot if the candidate withdraws, dies, or is declared ineligible on or before the 74th day before election day.

Acts 1985, 69th Leg., ch. 211, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1986.

Amended by:

Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 1109, Sec. 7, eff. September 1, 2005.

Sec. 145.036. FILLING VACANCY IN NOMINATION. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), if a candidate’s name is to be omitted from the ballot under Section 145.035, the political party’s state, district, county, or precinct executive committee, as appropriate for the particular office, may nominate a replacement candidate to fill the vacancy in the nomination.

(b) An executive committee may make a replacement nomination following a withdrawal only if:

(1) the candidate:

(A) withdraws because of a catastrophic illness that was diagnosed after the 62nd day before general primary election day and the illness would permanently and continuously incapacitate the candidate and prevent the candidate from performing the duties of the office sought; and

(B) files with the withdrawal request a certificate describing the illness and signed by at least two licensed physicians;

(2) no political party that held primary elections has a nominee for the office sought by the withdrawing candidate as of the time of the withdrawal; or

(3) the candidate has been elected or appointed to fill a vacancy in another elective office or has become the nominee for another office.

(c) Under the circumstances described by Subsection (b)(2), the appropriate executive committee of each political party making nominations for the general election for state and county officers may make a replacement nomination for the office sought by the withdrawing candidate.

(d) For the purpose of filling a vacancy, a majority of the committee’s membership constitutes a quorum. To be nominated, a person must receive a favorable vote of a majority of the members present.

(e) A vacancy in a nomination for a district, county, or precinct office that was made by primary election may not be filled before the beginning of the term of office of the county executive committee members elected in the year in which the vacancy occurs.

I’m not a lawyer, so maybe I’m wrong about this, but it looks to me like it’s Dominguez or nobody. If it’s nobody, that means the one clear Democratic pickup opportunity is off the boards. That’s an even bigger political tragedy than Lloyd Oliver.

Looking at these debacles is enough to make one pine for the days of smoke-filled rooms and party bosses deciding who would run for what. I fail to see how the cause of democracy has been advanced by these results. It may be the case, as it was with George Clayton in 2010, that what we get winds up being no worse or even better than what we could or would have had, but that’s hard to see here and is beside the point regardless. Voters can’t be expected to make informed decisions if they have no information. We hear a lot about the problem of too much money in politics. This is the flip side of that. Either side bolsters the argument for some form of public financing of campaigns. This is no way to run a small-d democratic system.

Oh, and I have a solution for both Perez and Dominguez if they have decided that having been nominated they don’t really want to serve: Run – you owe the Democrats who voted for you that much – win (hopefully), then resign and let someone who actually does want to hold these offices run in a special election to replace you. It’s far from ideal, but then so were the accidents of your primary victories.

House approves Senate’s SBOE map

On to the Governor for final approval of the new SBOE redistricting map.

The House voted 80-61 for the map, which contained changes made by the Senate and finishes the Legislature’s action on redrawing lines for the State Board of Education.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, called the plan “a perfect status quo map” that ignores the minority population growth.

The map is designed to elect five minorities from the 15 districts.

Fischer told minority lawmakers that it’s important to reflect their opposition in the final vote as they “take our business elsewhere.”

[…]

Social conservative Republicans also tried to stir opposition. They considered the map unfriendly for the board’s social conservative members. It also would force former board Chair Don McLeroy to run against incumbent Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. Both are social conservatives. McLeroy lost a GOP primary last year to Thomas Ratliff and has been planning to run again.

Nineteen House Republicans voted against the plan.

I hadn’t realized that McLeroy was moved into a different district by the Senate plan, thus protecting Thomas Ratliff from a rematch. Someone in the Senate must still like the Ratliff family.

I have election data for the new districts, again thanks to Joe Madden of the Legislative Study Group. These are fairly small documents, so I’ve posted them as Google spreadsheets for your perusal. Here’s the 2008 data, and here’s the 2010 data. A few observations:

– Unless Charlie Garza is a heck of a politician, I don’t see how SBOE1 doesn’t flip back to the Democrats next year. No Republican did better than John McCain’s 42.84% there, and downballot Dems were winning the district by 20 points or more. What’s more, this district should stay Democratic even if it draws the off years for subsequent elections. Only Greg Abbott, David Porter, and Eva Guzman carried it in 2010, and it’s fair to say that 2014 is likely to be less Republican than that.

– On the other hand, Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga in SBOE2 would do well to get Presidential years for her re-elects. Her district is actually less Democratic than Garza’s, and while every Dem carried it in 2008, only Bill White managed to eke out a plurality in 2010. Again, I assume that 2014 will be much less hostile to Democrats than 2010 was, but even if you assume a five point shift in their favor, that makes SBOE2 a tossup. Keep an eye on this, and don’t be surprised if complaints about retrogression in this district are a part of any lawsuit that gets filed.

– Democrats will have three decent targets to aim for in 2010 besides Garza: Ken Mercer in SBOE5, Terri “Don’t call me Terry” Leo in SBOE6, and Marsha Farney in SBOE10. The 2008 numbers:

Dist Incumbent Obama Houston Strawn ============================================ 05 Mercer 46.50 44.87 45.80 06 Leo 40.77 40.24 40.41 10 Farney 44.94 45.59 45.46

OK, I admit, SBOE6 is a big stretch. That’s my district, and I want someone to vote for, dammit. Note that SBOE10 was made slightly more Republican than the original House map. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised by that. Still, I really want to see some good challengers in these districts. We’ve had some quality people step up in recent years – Laura Ewing, Michael Soto, Judy Jennings, Rebecca Bell-Metereau – and we need more like that in 2012 to take advantage of all the opportunities available to us. If the wind is blowing right, who knows? The SBOE could be a very different institution in 2013, and that would be very much a good thing. Greg has more.

So what is the point of the SBOE, anyway?

Here’s another story about the difficulties of SBOE redistricting, and it’s got me wondering why we bother having an elected body called the State Board of Education.

This legislative session, lawmakers are working on redrawing the 15 districts based on new census data — released every 10 years — but a rise in population has made the task difficult and left some pushing to enlarge the board.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, a Carrollton Republican who heads the House Redistricting Committee, said that by the time the next census is done, some members will represent more than 2 million people.

“That’s unreasonable,” Solomons said.

Solomons said in drawing the new map, which was approved by his committee this month and is waiting to be brought before the House for a vote, it became clear that there is a problem as the population continues to grow.

He said he plans to ask House Speaker Joe Straus to take a look at restructuring the board after the session.

“There needs to be some resolution before the next census,” Solomons said.

His push to restructure the board has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans.

State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who ran for a spot on the board twice, said its districts are twice the size of congressional districts.

“Nobody knows who their State Board of Education member is unless they’re in the news for misbehaving,” Howard said.

My SBOE member is Terri Leo, who happens to represent one of the smallest geographic districts. I know she’s my SBOE member because it says I’m in SBOE6 on my voter registration card. I also know that at least in the last decade, I’ve never received any form of communication from her about what she or the Board are doing or how I can give her feedback. You’ll note there’s nothing on her rather primitive website for any of that, either. You can make a contribution, however, and you can marvel at the fact that her own website misspells her name (see where it says “What people are saying about Terry”?). Way to set a good example, Terri!

Well, maybe that’s just Terri Leo. Maybe Charlie Garza has a legitimate complaint about how much driving he’d have to do to meet his constituents, and maybe Donna Howard is right about knowing your SBOE member. The problem I have with this thinking is that whatever the merits or demerits of a 15-member Board, we can’t expand it enough to make the geography less of an issue. There are 31 State Senators, and some of them have massive, multi-county districts, too. Hell, so do some of the 150 State Reps. I’m certainly open to the idea of expanding the SBOE if by doing so we can make it more diverse, but if you’ll pardon the expression, the geography issue is too big to solve by this method.

Which leads to my question: Why do we need geographic representation on the SBOE? How are the issues that the SBOE deals with – curriculum standards and management of the Permanent School Fund – different for people in El Paso and Houston? The geographic representation we have now is a joke anyway. My urban neighborhood is stuck in Terri Leo’s far-flung suburban district; because of this pairing and the GOP’s partisan needs, Leo is (and has been in the past) the only person who will be on my ballot next year that is both subject to the redistricting process and a Republican. Travis County, as always, is split apart to ensure only Republicans represent it. I might be more sympathetic if these districts made geographic sense, but they don’t. Given all of the other issues, why do we even bother?

If we must have a State Board of Education, I don’t see how we’d be any worse off with an all-appointed board that was subject to some diversity requirements as well as Senate oversight. Really, given that curriculum expertise and fund management are not skill sets that necessarily go together, it would make more sense to dissolve the SBOE, put the curriculum function into the Texas Education Agency, and create a separate board to manage the PSF. Or forget the TEA, create a separate entity for curriculum oversight like the appointed body I mentioned before. Tell me how this would be less representative or less competent than what we have now.

I don’t think any of that is likely to happen, now or in the future. I won’t be surprised if there’s enough momentum for expanding the Board, to maybe 21 members or some such, to get on the agenda in the future. That may allow for some diversity, which is all to the good, but at best it will make a small and temporary dent in the district size problem. I say it’s better to give up on that and think outside the box. What do you think?