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Dexter Smith

Endorsement watch: For reason

In making their endorsements in State Board of Education races, the Chron “supports an incumbent who has fought for reason and clarity, and two challengers who would be fresh voices of reason”. As well they should.

In District 4, Lawrence Allen, the Democratic incumbent, fought to see that slavery wasn’t downplayed as the chief cause of the Civil War. As one of two African-Americans on the board, he’s offered a crucial minority perspective. As a former teacher and principal and current director of special projects for the Houston Independent School District, he knows how schools work. And as son of state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), he has valuable ties to the Texas Legislature.

Traci Jensen

In District 6, Traci Jensen, the Democratic challenger, is a former Aldine classroom teacher who earned a Ph.D in curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston, and now works with a UH program that coaches new teachers. She is smart as a whip, an expert in curricula, and promises to see that the board has a “clear, concise educational direction, not an ideological agenda.”

Dexter Smith

In District 8, Democrat Dexter Smith has taught third and fourth-grade social studies for 12 years, and is now pursuing his principal certification. His opponent, the current board chair, has a long history of votes aligned with the ideological majority. Smith promises to do better, making sure, for instance, that people appointed to review curricula are mainstream experts in their fields. And he vows to help legislators understand how proposals would affect real-world classrooms.

Smith is running against Barbara Cargill. He has a tougher electoral task than Jensen does. I did not get a chance to talk with him, so refer to that Texas Freedom Network voters guide to the SBOE races for more information about him.

Meanwhile, although the Express-News did not explicitly use the word “reason” in its endorsement of John Courage for the SD25 seat now held by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who was vanquished in the GOP primary by the loony Donna Campbell, you can tell that is what informed their opinion.

John Courage

We recommend that voters cast their ballots for Courage, an Air Force veteran and a teacher. Courage has deep roots in the district and demonstrates a more comprehensive knowledge of the issues facing Texas.

Courage’s long history as an active participant in the community makes him far better prepared to address local issues than Campbell.

A former member of the Alamo Community College District board, Courage has run unsuccessfully for the San Antonio City Council and the 21st Congressional District post held by Rep. Lamar Smith.

Courage is a strong advocate of public education, who is critical of education funding cuts enacted by lawmakers in 2011. Courage said he would work to restore adequate education funding.

Campbell wants to focus on inefficiencies in the education system. While that sounds good, recent state cuts and the inadequacies of Texas’s school finance system make additional funding urgent.
Courage offers a far more realistic approach to fiscal issues, including transportation funding.

The choices are seldom as clear as these. If people want government that’s more practical and less ideological, it’s in their grasp to make it happen.

Democratic results, Harris County

The good:

– Lane Lewis won a full term as HCDP Chair by a 55-45 margin. If you heard a whizzing noise this evening, it was the bullet we all dodged in this race.

– Sheriff Adrian Garcia easily won renomination with over 70% of the vote.

– State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Borris Miles won their races. We may finally have seen the last of Al Edwards.

– Sean Hammerle held off Dave Wilson in Commissioners Court Precinct 4. It was a close race, but the forces of good prevailed.

The bad:

– Jarvis Johnson, who finally held a campaign event during the first week of early voting, nearly won HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 outright. A late surge by Erica Lee pushed him into a runoff. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson, but he didn’t lift a finger during this race and he was up against two much more qualified opponents. There’s nothing like being a familiar name in a race like this.

– Elaine Palmer drubbed Judge Steve Kirkland, winning over 60% of the vote. I’ll be honest, I had thought that Palmer and Keryl Douglas would win or lose together, but Douglas didn’t have much money, and really didn’t do that much campaigning. Palmer had plenty of money and it worked for her. I wonder if her financial backers will be there for her in November.

The ugly:

– Perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver became the heir apparent to Gene Kelly by defeating the vastly better qualified Zack Fertitta for the DA nomination. I just about threw up when I saw the early numbers, and they never got any better. Let this serve as a very painful example of what can happen when a good candidate doesn’t have enough money to raise his name ID up to the level of the barnacle that is running against him. You can assess the blame however you like for this debacle, all I know is that I will be skipping this race in November.

– If that isn’t bad enough, Kesha Rogers will once again be the “Democratic” nominee in CD22. KP George had an early lead based on a strong showing in Fort Bend County, but he lost in Harris and Brazoria, and that was enough. I don’t even know what to say.

The rest:

– Diane Trautman won the HCDE Position 3 At Large race against David Rosen. Traci Jensen scored a clean win in the three-way SBOE 6 primary. Dexter Smith won in SBOE 8.

– Rep. Alma Allen also successfully defended her seat, winning with 59% against Wanda Adams. Mary Ann Perez had a late burst to win the nomination in HD144 outright, while Gene Wu rode a strong early showing to the top spot in HD137. He garnered 44%, and will face Jamaal Smith, who had 23%, in the runoff.

– Lissa Squiers led the three-way race in CD07 with 40%. She will face James Cargas, who was second with 33%. Tawana Cadien will be the nominee in CD10.

– Incumbent JP Mike Parrott won re-election, as did incumbent Constables Ken Jones, Victor Trevino, and May Walker. In Constable Precinct 1, Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will face off in overtime; Grady Castleberry had been running second but Vara-Leija overtook him late. In the Constable Precinct 2 cattle call, Zerick Guinn and Chris Diaz made the cut.

– Turnout was about 73,000, with almost exactly half of it coming on Election Day. Some people just don’t like voting early.

Endorsement watch: Three for SBOE

The Chron finally crosses one redistricting-affected category off its list by issuing three endorsements in State Board of Education primaries.

Patty Quintana-Nilsson

State Board of Education, Position 6, Democratic primary: This race has drawn a particularly strong slate of Democrats. (We are impressed by Traci Jensen’s knowledge of the arcane workings of the SBOE.) But Patty Quintana-Nilsson, a Spring Branch ISD technical-education teacher, receives our endorsement because of her practical, real-world commitment to improving education for all Texas students, not just those bound for four-year colleges. “There’s a big disconnect between what we have to do in class and what our students need,” she notes.

Linda Ellis

State Board of Education, Position 8, Republican primary: Our choice – Linda Ellis, a fiscal conservative – is challenging incumbent Barbara Cargill, a member of the SBOE’s religious-conservative voting bloc and currently chair of the SBOE. Ellis, a reading consultant who helps turn around low-performing schools, decries Texas’ overreliance on testing and the board’s lack of respect for teachers. “The education of our children,” she says, “is more important than politics.”

Dexter Smith

State Board of Education, Position 8, Democratic primary: Dexter Smith, an energetic, thoughtful Friendswood elementary-school teacher, knows first-hand how curriculum plays in the classroom. Science education, he says, should be based on the scientific method. As a father, he believes that parents should be the primary guides of their children’s sex education; but he also believes that too many parents fail to do so, so it’s important for schools to fill that gap.

My interview with Patty Quintana-Nilsson is here, with Traci Jensen is here, and with David Scott is here. I didn’t interview anyone in SBOE 8 because I didn’t realize until only recently that there was a contested Democratic primary. I’ll be sure to schedule one for the general election. If you’re wondering why they didn’t endorse in the contentious GOP primary in SBOE 7, the reason is presumably that SBOE 7 no longer contains part of Harris County in it – you can see the map here. It does contain Liberty, Chambers, Galveston, Brazoria, and most of Fort Bend counties, and you’d think there would be a few Chron readers in those places, but that’s how they roll. Given how many Harris races have not been and may not be done, it’s hard to argue.

The unhelpful SBOE overview

The premise of this story is good and useful. Unfortunately, the execution falls short.

Rita Ashley

Conservatives and moderates get a rare opportunity this year to try to stack the State Board of Education with members who will help shape public education in the way each side considers best for Texas school children.

All 15 seats are up for re-election this year due to once-a-decade redistricting to reflect population changes.

[…]

Four social conservative board members face GOP primary challenges, and four social conservative candidates are running in four separate districts now represented by moderate Republicans.

Locally, social conservative board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, is retiring and likely will be replaced by another social conservative – Donna Bahorich, of Houston, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary for Leo’s District 6 seat. Three Democrats are running for their party’s nomination, but will run uphill in the Republican district.

Board Chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, also a social conservative, is being challenged in the GOP primary by educator Linda Ellis, also from the Woodlands.

Longtime social conservative leader David Bradley, R-Beaumont, faces a serious primary challenge from Rita Ashley, also of Beaumont. Ashley has served as the House Public Education committee clerk.

And that’s pretty much all you get. Maybe I expect too much of these stories, especially when they cover multiple races and candidates. It sure seems to me, however, that a couple of primary battles between hardline conservatives who have been very much on the front lines of the culture wars and more traditional Republicans who actually value public education and want to get stuff done seems to me to be a worthwhile thing to explore in some depth. A quote or two from incumbents Cargill and Bradley, and challengers Ellis and Ashley, would have been nice. Noting that Ashley worked for Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Rob Eissler, claims Williams and Rep. Allen Ritter as supporters, and has the ParentPAC endorsement would have been nice, too. Listen to what Linda Ellis has to say if you want some contrast:

Linda Ellis

I’ve dedicated my life to the students and schools of Texas.

Throughout my 28 years as a Texas educator, while working in the schools and classrooms alongside teachers, I’ve always focused on two things: what’s best for students and helping teachers implement best practices in their classrooms.

That’s why, over the past decade, I’ve watched in horror as ideologues took over the State Board of Education and used it as a platform to politically divide our citizens while at the same time ramming their personal beliefs down the throats of Texas students.

With blatant disrespect for educational experts and ignoring local voices, these ideologues have systematically dismantled our state’s once great public school system and turned Texas public schools into material for comedians on late night TV.

They have done everything possible to demean our teachers and demoralize our students.

They are trying to create a new state. A divided state.

They must be stopped.

Now look at what Barbara Cargill is talking about. If there’s not a story in that, I don’t know where you’d find one. Unfortunately, where you won’t find one is in this Chron article, and more’s the pity for it. As for Ashley, her race against Bradley is more of a traditional intra-party pissing contest – see here and here for some less-than-high-minded exchanges – but Bradley has a higher profile than Cargill and is a bit of a bully besides. It’s possible that this primary could be a political career-ender for not one but two Bradleys, which would also be a hell of a story. I don’t think I’ve ever been this interested in the outcome of a couple of GOP primary races, that’s for sure.

Anyway. KHOU has a collection of videos made by area candidates for SBOE, which I found via TFN Insider. The winner in SBOE8 faces a Democratic opponent – Dexter Smith has been the more active candidate of the two running and has garnered most of the endorsements of which I am aware – and while there is no GOP primary in SBOE6 there is a three-way Democratic race for that nomination. I interviewed all three candidates early on in the cycle. Get to know your SBOE candidates so that when they meet next year and begin work on the next textbook or curriculum review you’ll know what to expect.