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Two challengers for Dunbar

Cynthia Dunbar, one of the loonier members of the State Board of Education, has at least two Austin-based Democrats considering challenges against her in 2010.

In the past two days, party activist Susan Shelton confirmed to me that she definitely plans to challenge Dunbar, and University of Texas math professor Lorenzo Sadun said he’s “very likely.” Sadun also told me he’s heard “as many as a dozen people are thinking of running” as Democrats.

“Yes, I’m running,” Shelton told me at the Central Texas Democratic Forum on Thursday. “I’ve been reading Dunbar’s book, and we need somebody less extreme in there.

“I had to run,” Shelton continued. “It’s a cliche, but I’ll need somebody to take care of me in my dotage, and I need them to be educated. There was no way I could not do this.”

I met Susan at the state Democratic convention last year, and I recall her talking about this at that time. I’m glad to see her follow through. Both she and Sadun would be vast upgrades over Dunbar.

Shelton emphasized that she will not begin actively campaigning until after Austin’s May 9 municipal elections. She serves as political director for Lee Leffingwell’s mayoral campaign, and said she wants to focus on “one race at a time.”

Sadun said that if he finally makes it official, he’ll also wait until after the muni contests. He said he also wants to wait to see he results of several SBOE-related bills before the 81st Texas Legislation, which will wrap up June 1. “None of them are likely to go anywhere,” Sadun opined, but if a bill by Austin Rep. Donna Howard to make SBOE elections nonpartisan is successful, “that will change everything. … Then the election would be in November with no runoff. In that case, we must not have the anti-Dunbar candidates splitting the vote.”

While I can understand the appeal of Rep. Howard’s bill (HB420, for which Rep. Ellen Cohen is listed as a coauthor), I don’t really think it solves anything. What I would expect to happen is that there would be fewer votes cast in these already-obscure elections, and that fewer voters would have any real idea about the candidates and their positions. At least with the label of a political party, you have some expectation that the candidates each have a set of beliefs that fall roughly within a certain spectrum. Under HB420, you’d have even less than that. A better solution to de-mystifying these low-information down-ballot races would be to ensure the candidates have the resources to make themselves known to the voters, which implies some kind of public campaign financing scheme. As that’s a non-starter around here, I’d prefer either abolishing the SBOE altogether, as Sen. Rodney Ellis is seeking to do, or greatly expanding its size, so that each district is smaller and thus cheaper in which to run – SBOE districts are now twice the size of Congressional districts – to making the races nonpartisan. All due respect to Reps. Howard and Cohen, but I hope this bill goes nowhere.

UPDATE: If you’re in Austin, you totally need to see this. And please, take video and post it on YouTube. Thanks very much.

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