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Michael Soto

Soto’s parting gift on textbooks

Outgoing SBOE member Michael Soto will be missed.

Michael Soto

Soto, the Trinity University English professor who was knocked off in this year’s Democratic primary by the little-known Marisa Perez, spent much of his two years on the board grappling with frustration over the state’s cumbersome textbook mandates.

So, in his final months in office, he quietly rewrote the board’s rules governing the adoption of instructional materials.

Those changes, coupled with a 2011 state law that let some oxygen into the room for school district curriculum planners, could mean that textbook publishers will no longer view Texas as the rich, crazy uncle they need but wish they could avoid.

“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Soto says.

[…]

“I wanted to encourage school districts to think creatively about how they used their instructional materials,” Soto says. “And I wanted publishers to have significantly more freedom to be creative and still remain a part of the state adoption process.”

Ultimately, that meant more deleting than writing; scratching nonsensical rules such as the one that mandated textbook publishers to mention a required element of the state curriculum three times.

“I would ask my colleagues, ‘Why are we specifying how many times something has to be mentioned?’ They said, ‘Three times is better than one, because students will encounter it more and be more likely to remember it,’” Soto says. “So I said, ‘By that logic, why not require it 50 times?’”

Before Soto’s rule changes, if a school wanted to buy a teacher’s manual from a publisher, it was obligated to also shell out money for textbooks. Soto eliminated that requirement, enabling publishers to tailor their products more precisely to the needs of individual districts.

Soto also threw out the board’s onerous old mandate that all electronic instructional materials be platform-neutral, automatically ruling out innovative material in Android, iPad, Kindle, Windows or Mac formats.

The result of this work, made possible by the passage of SB6 in 2011, is that textbook publishers can now bypass the state approval process and sell their wares directly to school districts, which ought to reduce the need for them to kowtow to whatever creationist/alternate history whims the SBOE might be indulging. That’s a big deal. I still don’t know what motivated Marisa Perez to run for this office – as far as I know, she’s still never clearly articulated a reason for her decision – but I sure hope she can come close to living up to the standard Soto set while on the board, because they need all the help they can get. Thanks for your service, Michael Soto.

We apparently will have a candidate in SBOE1 after all

The Trib reviews the bidding on the Martha Dominguez situation in SBOE 1.

Martha Dominguez

According to the Texas Election Code, primary candidates have until 63 days before the primary election to apply to have their name withdrawn (this year it was March 12), and they must withdraw with “the authority with whom the withdrawing candidate’s application for a place on the ballot is required to be filed.” In this case, that was the Texas Democratic Party, not the secretary of state’s office.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said that because Dominguez did neither of those things, her withdrawal was invalid and she stayed on the ballot as a legitimate candidate.

Had she successfully withdrawn from the primary, her name would not have been on the ballot, and one of the two other Democrats would have won the nomination.

Dominguez said Friday that her attempted withdrawal was based on “personal issues” that are now resolved, and that she fully intends to run against Republican Carlos Charlie Garza in November.

“The Texas voters have elected me, and I intend to win,” she said.

Had she decided not to stay on after being nominated for the general election, it’s unlikely that another Democrat could have taken her place.

Nice to see that she’s running; there had been some recent speculation that she had in fact withdrew. The fact that she hadn’t withdrew is mostly because she didn’t do it correctly, and I can’t say I’m comforted by that. The El Paso Times has more on that.

Dominguez said she tried to pull out of the race because of personal reasons, but once she saw she had won, she began to prepare to run in November. She said she has taken care of those personal issues.

“That whole week, I started emailing (secretary of state) to ask what happens and they said I was OK to run,” Dominguez said.

The certificate of withdrawal did not say why she wanted to get out of the race.

Democratic primary candidate [Sergio] Mora said he is disturbed by the fact that the Secretary of State’s office didn’t tell Dominguez to contact the state party or didn’t notify the party of her intent to withdrawal.

Mora said according to his interpretation of the election code, Dominguez missed the deadline to have her name removed from the ballot, but not withdrawal.

He feels the secretary of state should have let the party know so they could honor her withdrawal and appoint a different candidate.

“I have talked to various party leaders and we are concerned that the Republican Party will use this certificate of withdrawal to eliminate the Democratic candidate,” Mora said. “I think her request to withdrawal from the primary and general election should be honored and the Democratic Party should appoint someone to run in the general election.”

Mora said he will take legal action if necessary.

That ought to be interesting. No question in my mind that if Dominguez were to withdraw now, there would not be a replacement for her on the Democratic ticket. The Trib story references the Tom DeLay case of 2006, and I agree that’s on point. DeLay’s failed argument was that he was no longer eligible for the office he sought; Dominguez would have to have a valid claim of health reasons for withdrawal to be replaced. Mora’s argument is that she did withdraw before the primary, and that means she should not have been on that ballot. Under those circumstances, I can see the case for allowing a replacement, but I don’t know if a judge would buy it. We’ll see if Mora follows through.

And since I’m sure you’re wondering about Dominguez’s partner in enigmatic primary winners, Marisa Perez, the Texas Observer actually managed to speak to her, though it wasn’t easy.

After leaving messages with every listed number I could find for Perez and her campaign treasurer, and unable to take a hint, this reporter drove from Austin to San Antonio in search of the elusive candidate. This is what I had to go on: Perez, 27, is a graduate of San Antonio’s Edison High School and the University of Texas at Austin. She’s a social worker with Texas Child Protective Services, which could offer a little insight into what she’d bring to the board.

There was another brief clue from a videotaped campaign forum in May (like so many elusive characters, you’ll find proof that she exists on YouTube), Perez described her intentions thusly: “I am new to politics. I am not new to humanities. I’m not new to social service,” she said. She said she’d like to provide mental health training to teachers and counselors—a fine idea, though not something that falls under the scope of the SBOE.

I pulled up in the parking lot of the hulking brown three-story complex on San Antonio’s southeast side where Perez works, and casually glanced around. Naturally, there are security precautions in place at the Department of Family and Protective Services. After finding all the back entrances locked, I found the guards at the front door pleasantly disinterested when I walked right past them. But I was joined on the elevator by a helpful but skeptical employee who promptly marched me back to the metal detector. (She hadn’t heard of Perez either.)

At the front desk, I requested an audience with the presumptive board of education member, and the receptionist managed to get her on the line right away. After a thrilling moment—I was watching someone talk to her—I was told Perez was just stepping into a meeting. “She can call you right back,” the receptionist told me. I held my breath.

She never called back. Dejected, I drove back to Austin.

[…]

Then late last week, Perez announced she’d be holding her first campaign fundraiser outside an auto parts store next to her old high school. I decided to make a second foray into San Antonio to find Perez. When I arrived around noon, the candidate was introducing herself to a pair of teachers, shaking hands enthusiastically and planning to keep in touch. Under a pair of tents behind her, friends and family members sat talking, and selling hot dogs and drinks for a $5 donation. (Later that afternoon, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte would also drop by to speak with the candidate.)

Perez apologized for not returning my calls, saying the campaign has kept her too busy to answer all the calls she’s been getting. Even on election night, she said, she was out of town working, ferrying kids across the state. “I was on the phone every 20 minutes keeping up with the stats,” she said.

Perez said her main focus now is making herself accessible, to be “a recognizable face in the community.” It would seem she has a long way to go. But Perez did say she made a campaign stop in the Rio Grande Valley before the primary, and guesses she must have left an impression with those teachers and parents. Otherwise, she’s not too interested in talking about specifics—either about her out-of-nowhere primary win, or about the work she’ll face on the SBOE. Judging by how hard she was to track down, though, I felt lucky to come away with this much.

Patrick Michels, you’re my hero. Via SA Charter Moms, who have more on Perez. I say again, we need to think about better ways to protect good incumbents from getting swamped by no-name candidates in low-profile races like this. As for Perez, her Facebook page still has nothing more than the announcement of her June 13 fundraiser. But at least now we know that she actually exists.

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.

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.

More reactions to the election results

Enough about me. What are some other people saying about Tuesday’s results? Here’s a sample:

Greg
Juanita
PDiddie
Campos
Mark Bennett
EoW
Neil
Harold
Stace
Lion Star
Texas Trib
TM Daily Post
TFN Insider

There’s a certain amount of bitterness and disgust expressed in some of those posts about the more ridiculous results from Tuesday. I understand the sentiments, but I don’t think we really understand why these things happen. Frankly, as hard as some of those Harris County results are to swallow, I’m still reeling from the lopsided loss by first term SBOE member Michael Soto, who was clubbed by a novice candidate who basically ran no campaign and had no online presence. Maybe it was being connected to my alma mater that was the reason; in addition to Professor Soto, Trinity alums Brianna Hinojosa-Flores and Leif Olson also got thumped. Makes as much sense as anything else, right?

Obviously, that’s a silly reason. What can we learn from this? I don’t believe turnout level is a factor – remember, Mark Thompson waltzed to an easy win for the Railroad Commissioner nomination in 2008 despite running against a former elected official and a two-time nominee for the office, both of whom collected all the endorsements and had actual, organized campaigns and simple names to boot. Arguably, the way to avoid these bizarre results is to have even less turnout, as long as it was the right turnout. Surely we agree that the subset of well-informed voters, however big or small that group may be, would not have nominated Lloyd Oliver and Kesha Rogers. Clearly, there were enough voters who didn’t know enough about the candidates they were presented with. What are we going to do about that?

What we should not do is reflexively dismiss these voters as stupid. As is often the case during a non-partisan election, I was asked by numerous friends for voting advice. These are intelligent, connected people, with busy lives and limited information before them. Most of them had likely not had the chance to meet a candidate in most of these races. I think the last time I was visited by a candidate was for the 2009 special election in District H. They might have gotten some mail and maybe a couple of calls – mostly of the robo variety – but there was nothing on TV or the radio or in the Chronicle. Sure, you can find some information online – if you know who the candidates are to begin with – but let’s be honest, many campaign websites and Facebook pages are crappy, and again there’s not much news coverage out there for these lower profile races. How is someone who wants to make an intelligent choice but doesn’t have the time or the opportunity to attend a bunch of campaign events to know?

For starters, I suggest we all need to come to grips with the fact that campaigns and candidates really do need money to effectively communicate their message. More basically than that, candidates need money to introduce themselves to the voters in the first place. A familiar name means a lot. More than endorsements, clearly, which brings up a tangential matter, namely that far too many endorsing organizations do a piss poor job of communicating their preferences to their presumably intended audience. Take a look at the endorsements linked on my 2012 Primary page. See how many of them are Google docs and not links? Many of them were created or uploaded by me from the email sent out announcing the endorsements. I’d often hear of an endorsement from a candidate’s email or Facebook page, and I’d have to go hunting high and low to find it online, or I’d have to send an email requesting a doc be sent to me. And usually, that would be the end of it. How exactly does that help the organization’s preferred candidates? I continue to be boggled by how capriciously these things are treated. Not all organizations are this way, of course – the AFL-CIO and the GLBT Political Caucus are two shining examples of how to do it right – but far too many are. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Every endorsing organization should at the very least have a regularly updated webpage on which it posts its list of endorsed candidates for all to see. This is an incredibly low bar to clear.

I digress. An online presence, for candidates and for endorsing organizations, should be a minimum for being taken seriously. It’s a cheap and efficient way of communicating. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that having a Facebook page with a couple hundred Likes is a sufficient communications plan. Speaking as someone who has a regularly updated webpage, getting people to actually look at your online content is not so easy. It’s a component of a good communications strategy, not the be all and end all of it. Which gets us back to money, because a candidate who tries to do communication and outreach cheaply is a candidate who isn’t doing much, if any, communication and outreach. We can gripe all we want about Texas being a big ol’ ATM for national Democrats, but what are we doing about it? We need to put our own candidates first and help them help themselves.

This is what I’ve come up with after 24 hours of thought. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Complaining may make you feel good – Lord knows, I understand that feeling – but ultimately it’s not helpful. This is where we are, and it’s not where we want to be. It’s up to all of us to figure out how to get there.

The Congressional shuffle

Let the races begin!

Pending any further news, I think I’ve got my 2012 Democratic primaries, non-Harris County page updated. Most of the action was in Congressional races. Here are a few highlights from these filings.

David Alameel switched from CD06 to CD33, while Kenneth Sanders switched from CD33 to CD06.

Rose Meza Harrison was the only candidate who had filed for CD27 back in December to remain in CD27. All of the other candidates – Armando Villalobos, Ramiro Garza, Denise Saenz Blanchard, and Anthony Troiani – moved over to CD34.

– It’s early, so a lot of new entrants don’t have websites, but I’ve been able to find out a few interesting facts. CD06 candidate Brianna Hinojosa-Flores is a Council Member in the city of Coppell, and according to this is a patent attorney with Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerry.

– CD33 candidate Jason Roberts was a speaker at TEDx in Austin this year.

– I don’t know if the Occupy movement will spawn candidates the way the Tea Party movement did, but CD05 candidate Linda Mrosko lists Occupy Tyler as part of her work experience on her Facebook page.

– I’m normally reluctant to hold this sort of thing against someone, but in light of recent party switches I feel compelled to note that CD34 candidate Filemon Vela is married to Republican appeals court judge Rose Vela, who ran unsuccessfully in the GOP primary for State Supreme Court against Eva Guzman. Make of that what you will.

– Possibly the most interesting candidate on the ballot is CD34 hopeful Juan Angel Guerra, whom those of you with long memories may recall as the Willacy County DA who tried to prosecute Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales on a variety of charges. Let’s just say that the unintentional comedy potential there is high and leave it at that.

– There are now two more contested SBOE primaries. SBOE 1, which is currently held by Republican Charlie Garza but which can and should be won by a Democrat in 2012, now has three candidates, including Webb County Democratic Party Chair Sergio Mora. SBOE 3 freshman Michael Soto picked up a challenger as well.

– Hardly any changes in Harris County. A couple of extra Constable candidates and Jim Dougherty’s entry into CD02, but that’s it. If you missed the update to my Sunday post, there was a typo in that Harris County spreadsheet and that Tracy Good has filed for the 33rd Civil District Court and not the 339th Criminal District Court. So there are no unchallenged judicial seats after all.

That’s about all I’ve got. I’ll keep looking for candidate webpages, and of course the March campaign finance reports for Congressional candidates will start coming in soon. With the short run to the primary, I’m sure a few of these candidates will remain mysterious by the time it’s all over.

Filing report: Who is Ann Johnson?

On Friday afternoon, Annie’s List sent out an email to supporters naming some new candidates they’re supporting. One of the names given was Ann Johnson, who has filed to run in HD134, the first Democratic challenger to an incumbent Republican State Rep so far. A lot of us looked at that and said “Who’s Ann Johnson?” This is what the Annie’s List email says:

Ann is a respected attorney, law professor, cancer survivor and is no stranger to politics after having worked in both the Texas Legislature and the Clinton White House. She is the daughter of former State Representative Jake Johnson and former Judge Carolyn Marks Johnson. Today she manages the family’s law firm and represents plaintiffs in civil and criminal cases with a specialization in juvenile cases. In fact, she recently made statewide headlines after winning a landmark case in front of the Texas Supreme Court that helps protect children charged with prostitution.

The Republican incumbent, Sarah Davis, showed her true colors as a right-wing partisan when she voted for a budget that cut over $4 billion from Texas public schools; financial aid for 30,000 low-income students; basic healthcare for almost 300,000 women, almost $2 billion from nursing homes and more. Annie’s List believes that Ann Johnson is the right candidate to hold the incumbent accountable for her atrocious and out-of-step voting record and win by building a coalition of progressive and moderate voters that want a thoughtful, independent leader in Austin.

I would remind Annie’s List that Davis also voted for the initial House budget, which cut $8 billion from public education. Be that as it may, here’s Ann Johnson’s bio from her law firm’s page. Here’s a newspaper report and a Rick Casey column about cases she argued successfully; here’s a video of her before the Supreme Court in the latter case. She’s got an impressive resume, no question about it. Mostly at this point I’d say she needs to introduce herself to Democratic voters, as she doesn’t appear to have much of a recent history of activism. As a potential future constituent, I certainly plan to introduce myself to her.

In other news that affects my November ballot, we now have a challenger to SBOE member Terri Leo. Classroom teacher Patty Quintana-Nilsson, who left a comment on my post about SBOE races, has filed to challenge Leo. Her About Me page contains an early contender for Best Fact About A 2012 Candidate:

She is bilingual English/Spanish and has a good understanding of Swedish.

My college roommate’s best friend from back home in El Paso was half Mexican and half Swedish. This makes me happy in a way that I can’t quite articulate. Anyway, in other SBOE news, freshman member and Trinity University professor Michael Soto has filed for re-election, and according to the TDP, a fellow named Ruben Cortez Jr. has filed to succeed Mary Helen Berlanga in District 2. Cortez is Vice President of the Brownsville ISD Board of Trustees. No challenger yet for Republican freshman Charlie Garza in District 1.

The Trib has a pretty good guide to who has filed for what so far, if you’re as obsessive about that sort of thing as I am. There’s still a lot of races that lack candidates, but it’s early days yet. One last thing to add is that there is a third person looking at HD137, which is being vacated by Rep. Scott Hochberg, and that is Brandon Dudley, who is (I believe) State Sen. Rodney Ellis’ chief of staff, and was a judicial candidate in Harris County in 2010. None of the three reported candidates have filed yet.

Time once again to keep an eye on the SBOE

The Legislature is now out of town, but there will still be action in Austin to watch out for as the State Board of Education holds its July meeting. The Express News lets us know what’s happening.

In 2008, an SBOE majority rejected the recommendations of experts and scholars from a two-year process to rewrite the English and reading curriculum. Instead, at the last minute this faction adopted a document that had never been publicly reviewed, one that established new language arts standards in Texas for the next decade.

In 2009, the SBOE adopted new science standards that ignored the recommendations of leading scientists and educators. Last year, the board adopted politically-charged social studies standards that even a conservative educational think tank panned as “historically misleading and potentially damaging to our shared values as a nation.”

Now the SBOE is preparing to adopt supplemental instructional materials in science. With school district budgets strapped by cuts in education funding, it is essential that science teachers have the materials they need to prepare students to meet state-mandated benchmarks and, more important, to be successful in a competitive, knowledge-based economy.

Ideologically monkeying with educational standards and materials should never be acceptable. The only check on the SBOE’s actions is an informed public that scrutinizes the work of SBOE members and holds them accountable at the ballot box.

We’ve been down this road before and we know where it leads. New SBOE member Michael Soto has some information on his website about how to get involved:

You can view samples of the science instructional materials under consideration and leave comments at the Texas Education Agency website. (Some samples require a username and password; to request access, email review.adoption@tea.state.tx.us.) If you discover factual errors, you can file a list with the TEA at this email address:textbookerrors@tea.state.tx.us. (To learn more about how to report factual errors, please review this TEA web page.)

The public is invited to testify before the SBOE at its July meeting. (Testimony will be heard on Thursday, July 21st.) To learn more about how to testify, please review this TEA web page.

See here for more. Let’s start working on this now and raise alarms where needed so we won’t be caught by surprise later.

Endorsement watch: Beware the really bad candidates

Gloria Padilla in the Express News has some good advice.

Voting is not as easy as it used to be when communities were smaller and everyone knew the candidates. Smart voters need to do their homework and research their candidates. The uninformed choices made at the ballot box could have adverse consequences for generations to come.

I especially urge voters to research the State Board of Education candidates before casting a ballot.

There are two seats up in the Bexar County area.

In District 5, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau of Austin is facing incumbent Ken Mercer, a former state representative from San Antonio.

Mercer is a member of a dysfunctional majority on the state education board that is making Texas the laughingstock of the nation. He has used his position on the state board to promote his personal beliefs and force them into to the curriculum. That is not the role of a state board of education member.

Bell-Metereau is a Fulbright scholar and professor at Texas State University in San Marcos.

There is no incumbent in the District 3 race. Democrat Rick Agosto, who held the seat for the last four years, chose not to seek a second term.

Voters in this race have a choice between another well-respected university professor and a man prone to non-responsive answers to most questions.

Anyone who has ever met the two candidates knows there is only one qualified candidate in this race. Republican Tony Cunningham, the Republican candidate, has no clue what the job is about and will talk about the Constitution and job creation when asked about education.

His opponent, Democrat Michael Soto, grew up in Brownsville and was educated at Harvard. He has a son enrolled in the San Antonio Independent School District. He knows public education.

We may never have another election in which this much attention has been paid to SBOE races. Hopefully, we will also never have another election in which the likes of Cynthia Dunbar can get elected without opposition because no one pays attention to SBOE races. Whatever happens in the actual races, a lot more people understand that races like these are as important as the ones they’re used to hearing about and paying attention to, and that’s a good thing.

Fundraising: SBOE

Really only two races of interest here, SBOE 5 and SBOE 10. Let’s take a look.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458837&form=COH

Totals From Report For Rebecca L. Bell-Metereau
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,790.51
Total Political Contributions: $69,779.06
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $79.17
Total Expenditures: $29,172.85
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $170.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $43,076.61
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=457461&form=COH

Totals From Report For Kenneth B. Mercer
Filed on: July 14 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $535.00
Total Political Contributions: $6,675.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $45.87
Total Expenditures: $24,969.83
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $1,720.77
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Not a bad haul at all for Bell-Metereau. SBOE districts are enormous, twice the size of State Senate districts, so that money will only go so far, but in context, it’s quite impressive. Mercer presumably had a few bucks lying around from his previous campaign, and I daresay he’ll depend more on the partisan lean of this district to win rather than any actual campaigning. But if he does plan to run a race, he’ll need to find the money for it first.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458836&form=COH

Totals From Report For Judith A. Jennings
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,876.61
Total Political Contributions: $54,600.81
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $40.29
Total Expenditures: $26,214.86
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $150.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $36,406.78
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458786&form=COH

Totals From Report For Marsha L. Farney
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period April 04, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $17,975.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $10.75
Total Expenditures: $101,875.04
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $4,049.86
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Jennings has another decent Democratic haul. Note that Farney’s totals only cover three months while Jennings’ span six; this is because Farney was in a primary runoff that she won in April. However, if you add her contributions raised in the previous three periods to this, she collected $44,276 for the six months, meaning that Jennings still out-raised her.

You may also notice the large sum Farney reported spending in this period. In fact, she spent an equal or greater amount in the two prior periods as well, and going back to the start of the year has dropped nearly $400K on this race. Almost all of that is reported on the Schedule G form, which is for “Political Contibutions Made From Personal Funds”. The disclaimer on each item is “Reimbursement for political contributions intended”. In short, she’s loaned herself all this money but hopes to get future contributors to pay it back. It’s still money spent, but if you look at her most recent form, the vast majority of these expenditures were made in April; in other words, they were runoff expenses, and thus aimed at a limited audience. If she’s spent that much so far to get nominated, it stands to reason she’ll spend at least as much to get elected, and while as I’ve said there’s a difference between raising money and spending it, that will still be of great use to her. That said, Jennings clearly has the advantage in the breadth of her campaign.

There is a third race that we’re all watching for the SBOE, of course, and that’s Michael Soto’s race in SBOE 3. Here’s Soto’s report – he raised $11K and has about $8K on hand. I didn’t add his report in like the others because he’s running in a strong D district – it’s about ten points more Democratic than SBOE 5 is Republican – and as such, I didn’t even bother to look up his opponent’s name. But here it is for your perusal nonetheless.

Interview with Michael Soto

Michael Soto

It’s time to start up the interview machine again, as election season will be on us before you know it. (Fun fact: We’re less than 90 days out from the start of early voting.) I’ve got a trio of SBOE candidates to get things started, beginning with Michael Soto, the Democratic candidate for SBOE in District 3, which is primarily San Antonio and points south. Soto is a professor of English at my alma mater and is running to replace the unreliable Democratic incumbent, Rick Agosto. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

As before, I will keep a list of all interviews on the 2010 Elections page. Let me know what you think about the interview, and if you have any suggestions about that page.

The clown show finally calls it a wrap

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some other state to be the national laughingstock again. The Court of Criminal Appeals gives it a good run for its money, but you just can’t out-embarrass the SBOE, and every time they meet it gets worse. All I can say is thank goodness that two of the worst of these clowns will never hold public office again.

Anyway, here’s your wrapup from the Day Two festivities, which carried over a few minutes past midnight and into Day Three, from the Trib, TFN, and Abby Rapoport. And here’s your Day Three liveblogging and other reports, from TFN, the Trib, TFN again, the Trib again, Abby Rapoport, and Steven Schafersman. Mainstream media coverage is here, here, and here. Burka and Stace also weigh in, and of course Martha was working it on Twitter. May those who had to endure all this get a nice long vacation to recover their sanity.

Most of the heavy lifting came during Thursday’s marathon session. Friday was about finishing touches and final votes. The highlight was the restoration of Thomas Jefferson to the world history curriculum, reversing a decision that has drawn the most derision from pretty much everywhere on the planet. That’s good for TJ, but not so much for his fellow Enlightenment figure James Madison, who didn’t make the cut. The lowlight, if you have to pick just one, was the Board’s ratification of the idea that there is no “separation of church and state”. As noted by the Trib:

[M]embers this afternoon passed an amendment to the state’s socials studies standards calling for students to “contrast” the intent of the nation’s founders with the notion of separation of church and state.

It reads: “Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase, ‘separation of church and state.’”

The motion came from Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, a moderate Republican who worked on the language with arch-conservative former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan. With the exception of the adding the word “compare” along with “contrast” and including some verbiage directly from the First Amendment, what the board passed mirrored what McLeroy had originally proposed.

I have several statements, from the Texas Freedom Network, Bill White, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, and Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chair Stephen Brown, about this travesty beneath the fold. Texas Politics has a reaction from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who echoes former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige. The only thing we can do about this is elect some better SBOE members. Three such candidates running this year are Judy Jennings, Rebecca Bell-Metereau, and Michael Soto. The TDP got video statements from all three at the meeting, which you can see below:

Here’s a video of TFN President Kathy Miller, whose group has been a stalwart all throughout this process and which deserves your support as much as any candidate:

We can’t afford any more of this crap. We have a chance to do something about it this year. Please help these folks out.

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The SBOE slate

Martha has a great rundown of the slate of candidates for the State Board of Education, along with some partisan index numbers for the districts, which you should check out. The best part about this is that with Michael Soto replacing Rick Agosto in District 3, the Board is assured of being at least a little bit better. Dems have a decent shot at claiming the now-open seat being vacated by the loony Cynthia Dunbar in 10, but even if Judy Jennings doesn’t pull it off, we may get a better Republican in there if Rebecca Osborne is their nominee. Knocking off the crappy Ken Mercer in District 5 is a much longer shot, but Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Daniel Boone are both good candidates for the Democrats. And finally, if Thomas Ratliff can take out ur-wingnut Don McLeroy in the GOP primary in 9, that would be beyond awesome.

I suppose one benefit to having a Board that’s as full of clowns and losers as this one is that there’s a lot of upside and very little risk in an election like this. The potential is there for the SBOE of 2011 to be a vast improvement over the SBOE of 2009. So go take a look at the list of candidates, and see who you can help to make that happen this March and November. The Trib has more.

Let’s make this a bad year for Don McLeroy

Don McLeroy is a wee bit concerned about losing one of his allies on the SBOE.

State Board of Education former Chair (and current member) Don McLeroy wasn’t too concerned about losing Democratic swing-vote Rick Agosto. At least not at first.

“The big impact will be if I depart,” McLeroy said over the phone.

[…]

But an hour later, McLeroy called back with some different news. Agosto’s abstention on the math book, which McLeroy dismissed initially, was actually essential, he said. “We never could have done that without him,” McLeroy said in a voice message.

“He did a lot of thinking on his own,” McLeroy explained in the recording. “He was not a rubber stamp for anybody.” For those unfamiliar with McLeroy, not being a rubber stamp is high praise.

Why the change? Perhaps McLeroy realized the danger the conservatives on the board would face without Agosto.

If that’s not a good reason to be happy about Agosto’s departure and get behind the candidacy of Michael Soto, I don’t know what would be. Even better is the news that State Rep. Brian McCall is endorsing McLeroy’s primary opponent, Thomas Ratliff. And we’ve got some good Democratic candidates lining up to take aim at some of McLeroy’s other buddies. If we can make 2010 a bad year for Don McLeroy, it will be a very good year for Texas and all of its students.

Hopson switches, Agosto drops out

Two pieces of news for the 2010 cycle, one good and one not good. For the latter first, State Rep. Chuck Hopson, who won a very tight race for re-election in 2008, has announced that he will run in 2010 as a Republican.

A press release from Hopson’s campaign said he thinks President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats do not represent the concerns and values of his East Texas district. Hopson is scheduled to hold a press conference on his switch later this afternoon.

In 2008, Hopson won re-election by 114 votes. He likely would have faced even more difficulty in 2010, considering that Democrats have lost some of their momentum from the 2008 election.

“It takes strength and integrity to stand against the special interests — and while some members have that strength, others, like Chuck Hopson, do not,” said state Democratic Party chairman Boyd Richie.

Richie said Hopson had told Democratic members that he’d rather retire from the House than become a Republican.

A letter from House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, which is more cordial to Hopson, is beneath the fold. It’s certainly true that as suburban Texas is becoming more Democratic, rural Texas is becoming more Republican, and Hopson likely read the same tea leaves that formerly-Republican State Rep. Kirk England did back in 2007. I’ll certainly take that trade demographically, but in the short run this is a blow to the Democrats’ chances of retaking the House, as was Rep. David Farabee’s retirement. At least we’re not still trying to get rid of Tom Craddick as Speaker. Greg and Phillip, who once worked for Hopson, have more.

On the better side, SBOE member Rick Agosto, a Democrat who was way too close to the wingnut faction of the Board, is not running for re-election.

Trinity University literature professor Michael Soto, 39, announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic Party nomination for District 3, which stretches from San Antonio south to the border.

And several top Democratic Party leaders from San Antonio, including state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and former State Board of Education member Joe Bernal, are backing Soto.

Agosto, who was first elected in 2006, said he needs to spend more time with his family and investment business.

“I’ve enjoyed my time there,” but being a state board member basically can be a full-time job, Agosto said.

Agosto has been the subject of several recent newspaper stories about business relationships with companies vying for contracts with the board.

He has denied any wrongdoing and atrributes the criticism to political back-biting on the board.

Agosto said his re-election decision is not related to this scrutiny.

Good riddance, and Agosto will hopefully be one of many bad SBOE incumbents to be back in the private sector after next year. Read more about Soto here. I look forward to hearing more about him and his campaign.

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