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October 14th, 2021:

Interview with Jharrett Bryantt

Jharrett Bryantt

There are four HCC Trustee races this year – you can see the full list of candidates here. Three of the four races include a candidate backed by the execrable Dave Wilson, including the District 6 race where Wilson himself is running against a write-in candidate, because we live in the worst timeline. Jharrett Bryant, who is running in District 8, is the exception, and he is quite exceptional. A Teach for America alumnus who taught math and science in HISD before moving into administration, he is now the assistant superintendent for the Office of Strategy and Innovation at HISD. He has a doctorate in education leadership and policy from UT, and you can learn more about his professional background here. Here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3
Reagan Flowers, HCC District 4
Eva Loredo, HCC District 8

House approves its map

We’re getting close to the finish line.

Donuts – they’re not just for breakfast anymore

The Texas House on Wednesday approved proposed political boundaries for the lower chamber’s 150 districts that aim to fortify Republicans’ strength in the state House for the next decade.

House Bill 1, authored by state Rep. Todd Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican who chairs the lower chamber’s redistricting committee, will now head to the Senate for consideration.

The House’s 83-63 vote comes as the Legislature rounds out its third special session of the year, an up to 30-day stretch ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott that has focused on redrawing the state’s congressionalSenate, House and State Board of Education maps based on the latest census data. Those numbers, which were delayed largely because of the pandemic, showed that people of color fueled 95% of the state’s population growth over the past decade.

Despite those growth trends, the number of districts in which white people make up the majority of eligible voters ​would increase from 83 to 89 in the new map. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a Hispanic majority among eligible voters would drop from 33 to 30, while the number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would go from seven to six. Those numbers are based on census estimates of the number of citizens in each district who are of the voting age.

The new map includes 85 districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and 65 that would have voted for Joe Biden. That’s one less Trump district than was originally proposed in the House late last month. The current partisan breakdown of the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, though Trump only won 76 of the current House districts in 2020.

The special session is slated to end Oct. 19, which means lawmakers have a week left to hash out differences over those maps and other items included on the agenda set by Abbott.

See here for the background, and here for the map. This Trib story goes in deeper about that weird donut job in Bell County. At this point, the Lege might actually finish off their business in time to prevent the need for a third session, given that all they need to do is approve the other chambers’ maps. I would think that the SBOE and legislative maps would likely be easy enough for them, but maybe the Congressional map might get worked over in the House. Map drawing is a time honored way for ambitious legislators to find themselves a Congressional district to run in, after all. Or maybe they’re all sick of being in Austin and don’t have any desire to quarrel over small changes that favor one person over another. I thought it would take them longer to get this far, so who knows.

I mentioned before that the Heights was largely reunited under this new plan, all in HD145. There’s still a split in the Senate, with most of the Heights in SD15 but the eastern end in SD06. The main way that this reunification could occur was by radically moving HD148.

State Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston, also opposed changes to her new district that she said leaves her with just a third of her current constituency.

Under the proposed map, Morales Shaw’s district would be shifted completely outside Loop 610, losing the Heights and Near Northside, most of which would be moved into state Rep. Christina Morales’ district. Morales Shaw’s District 148 would be expanded past Beltway 8 into northwest Harris County, taking in parts of Jersey Village and nearby suburbs, while cutting into area now represented by at least five other members.

The district’s Hispanic citizen voting-age population would decrease from 46 percent to 37 percent, and Morales Shaw said the residents that would be moved to other districts are from high-turnout communities.

“Chairman, from your knowledge, would you agree this dismantling and remaking of 148 is one of the most egregious examples that you’ve seen of retrogression in the Texas redistricting map?” Morales Shaw asked [State Rep. Rafael] Anchía during a round of questioning that seemed aimed at creating a record for a future lawsuit.

Anchía said District 148 is protected under Section II of the Voting Rights Act, which prevents discrimination against minorities during the political mapmaking process, “and to dismantle a protected district like that is one of the more problematic data points in the underlying map.”

Zoom in on that map and see for yourself. You know I’m pessimistic about any prospects for litigation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

UPDATE: Reform Austin has some more details about the latest map.

More on the Abbott max anti-vaxx order

Businesses will face a choice that they would rather not have to face.

Companies doing business in Texas face new and complicated challenges after Gov. Greg Abbott this week banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates for all entities in the state — including private businesses — for employees or customers.

The ramifications for businesses could begin as soon as Friday, when companies that enter into contract work with the federal government will be required to have all employees vaccinated under orders from the White House.

This conflicts with Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates, putting the many Texas businesses that receive federal contracts in a tough position: Comply with federal law and violate Abbott’s ban, or comply with Abbott and turn down business from the federal government.

[…]

“This harms Texans directly,” Karen Vladeck, an employment lawyer in Austin, said of the new order from Abbott. “I just think it wasn’t well thought out.”

Abbott’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

On top of prohibiting any entity in Texas from requiring vaccinations, Abbott’s order also lists several expanded exemptions. Vladeck and other employment lawyers said that this adds to the vaccine dilemma facing businesses in Texas. Under Abbott’s new rule, people may opt out of a vaccine requirement for medical reasons, including if they prove they have had COVID-19 in the past, despite scientists widely agreeing that this does not protect people against contracting the virus.

“The executive order’s medical reason language is a bit strange because usually you exempt people for medical reasons if they have a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Abbott’s order is “meant to cover people who don’t want to get the vaccine because they believe, quite wrongly, that they’re completely protected by already having COVID.”

Abbott’s rule also allows people to opt out of a vaccine requirement if they prove they hold a deep personal belief against getting jabbed.

Any entity that fails to comply with Abbott’s rule could receive up to a $1,000 fine.

Abbott’s Monday order is a reversal from his position in August, when the Pfizer vaccine received final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At the time, Abbott’s spokesperson said that businesses had the option of mandating vaccination for employees and “private businesses don’t need government running their business.”

“It’s all about company choice in Texas, except now it’s come to something that they don’t like what the companies are choosing,” Vladeck said. “It puts a big burden on employers.”

See here for the background. So far, businesses that are also federal contractors, including airlines and companies like IBM, will ignore Abbott’s order, while others are awaiting the OSHA rules before making a decision. Multiple business groups, the same organizations that often turn to the state for a legislative solution to local ordinances they don’t like, harshly criticized Abbott’s order for making their lives more difficult. Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee released a statement encouraging businesses that want to be able to get their employees vaccinated to file a lawsuit against Abbott over the order. And in the end, even wingnut talk radio hosts weren’t impressed by Abbott’s order. It’s almost as if he were a weak, gutless leader.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 11

The Texas Progressive Alliance is dining al fresco as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Endorsement watch: Garza Lindner and Vilaseca

The Chron goes against an incumbent in HISD District I.

Janette Garza Lindner

Trustee Elizabeth Santos, 39, is asking voters to keep her on the board representing Houston ISD District I. They shouldn’t.

Santos’ connection to the district is deep. She grew up attending its schools and taught English there. Her dedication to students shines through when she speaks. As a board member, she helped get raises for teachers and staff as a vocal champion for better pay in the district, whose teachers remain among the region’s lowest paid.

That record speaks in her favor, but it does not overcome her weaknesses as a board member.

An early strike against Santos came in late 2018, when she joined four other trustees to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan in a surprise vote that came after the five had met with a former superintendent whom they then named to replace Lathan. The Texas Education Agency cited that apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law as partial grounds for replacing the whole board.

Santos defends her actions, and claimed in our meeting with her she hadn’t known in advance that Lathan would be fired. But the episode was deeply disruptive and showed poor judgment.

That was an early mistake, but unfortunately Santos has not provided the steady influence and smooth leadership that the school board, with all its recent acrimony, so badly needs. In interviews with us and other outlets recently, she has also struggled to share a cogent vision for how she’ll use a second term to steer the district to further success.

On the other hand, Janette Garza Lindner, 45, is a strong candidate. The mother of two HISD students, she grew up in Brownsville, bilingual in Spanish and English, as an adopted daughter of a widow who left school in the second grade and never learned to read. She graduated from the University of Texas and is an energy industry consultant and project manager. In 2019, she received training as a board fellow of Latinos for Education and serves on the leadership committee of Arts Connect Houston.

My interview with Elizabeth Santos is here, with Janette Garza Lindner is here, and with Matias Kopinsky is here. I noted the issue about the Lathan/Saavedra mess when the Chron endorsed Sue Deigaard, noting that she was not involved in the non-compliant meeting, but I totally forgot to mention that Santos was one of the trustees they might have opposed as a result. I don’t know how much this hurts Santos – she was not the Chron-endorsed candidate in 2017, either – but in a low-turnout affair it may boost Garza Lindner a bit. I figure this is going to a runoff anyway, so we’ll see then if Santos may be in some trouble.

Over in District VI, the Chron did endorse incumbent Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca despite her involvement in that meeting.

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Overseeing the nation’s seventh-largest public school system does not accommodate learning curves. After Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January 2017, the editorial board endorsed her for a full term , reasoning that nine months is hardly enough time to garner a first impression, let alone demonstrate the breadth of knowledge.

Through five years, three superintendents, an attempted state takeover of the district, Flynn Vilaseca has acquitted herself well on the board as a steady voice and an open mind with a deep fluency on education policy. We recommend District VI voters give her another term representing West Houston.

Flynn Vilaseca, 40, a bilingual former early childhood teacher, wants to bolster the district’s investments in special education and better train campus principals on managing finances to avoid wasteful spending. Her support for wraparound services for special education students is admirable and desperately needed in a district still routinely failing students with learning differences.

Flynn Vilaseca’s role in one of the more shameful chapters in the district’s history is a vulnerability. She was among five trustees who allegedly met in secret with former HISD superintendent Aberlardo Saavedra to coordinate replacing the interim superintendent with him. TEA officials alleged the “walking quorum” violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led the agency to recommend replacing the entire board.

Flynn Vilaseca claims Saavedra was a long-time mentor and that she arranged the meeting so trustees could discuss “concerns on the board,” but never talked about hiring him. Why, then, did she hand Saavedra a copy of another former superintendent’s contract? According to her 2019 affidavit: “Because he had previously asked for it.”

Even if true, it doesn’t excuse how she was willing to vote days later, ostensibly with only a few minutes notice, without public input, to hire Saavedra.

That said, Flynn Vilaseca seemed sincere in her apology, and pledged to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency. We’re taking another chance on her because her collaborative, moderate voice is needed and because her challengers came up short.

My interview with Flynn Vilaseca is here and with Greg Degeyter is here. Maybe the difference in the Chron’s eyes between Santos and Flynn Vilaseca was the quality of the apology. We’ll see how Anne Sung fares when it’s her turn.