Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Art Murillo

Congratulations to Art Murillo, the first person of color elected to the Lone Star College Board of Trustees. Need I mention that it took a lawsuit for this to happen?

Art Murillo

Murillo, who is Latino, at one time might have seemed a long shot to win a seat on the Lone Star College board of trustees. But he was running in a newly drawn majority-Latino district, the result of a lawsuit that challenged the LSC’s “at-large” system of representation. On Tuesday, Murillo was elected the only Latino member of the nine-member board.

[…]

Lone Star College officials created the new district after a lawsuit alleged that the old election system – where all voters in the community college district could vote for each candidate – disenfranchised minorities because whites across the district would reject minority candidates.

The district currently has about 83,000 students enrolled in college credit courses.

Starting this year, that system is gone, and the college system isn’t alone in tackling the voting rights issue.

“As to the suburban areas, because of the white flight that this country experienced for half a century, those districts have been exceedingly Anglo for so long that at-large districts didn’t really commit a great deal of harm on minority citizens,” said Chad Dunn, who represented the group that sued Lone Star last year and specializes in litigation involving such systems.

“What is uniquely going on now, and about the last decade as the city center has redeveloped, the suburbs are becoming much more mixed-race,” Dunn said.

Latinos make up about 32 percent of people living in the Lone Star College district, which spans north Harris and Montgomery counties, according to the most recent census figures. African-Americans make up 15 percent.

Advocates argue that the new single-member districts that have a majority of minority voters will ensure they have a voice in college affairs.

“There’s not a lot of Hispanic leadership at all,” Murillo told another resident as they discussed Hispanic participation in local elections.

Two points to note here. One is that no matter what the Supreme Court may think there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that minority communities have something resembling a proportionate amount of representation in government. Single member districts, for city councils and school boards and the like, are often the best, or at least the fastest, way to make this happen. It’s not a panacea, and some problems could be alleviated by higher rates of voter participation, but you can run into a chicken-and-egg problem there. It’s hard to convince someone to run for an office they don’t see a way to win. The plaintiffs in the LSC single-member litigation couldn’t do a proper comparison of how white and non-white candidates did in these elections in the past because there weren’t any non-white candidates running.

The other point is that those of us that would like to see more diverse representation in elected offices need to pay more attention to local races like this one. Your future legislators and Congressfolk and whatnot often get their start in places like the Lone Star College Board of Trustees; Harris County Clerk Chris Daniel is one example. The potential to change outcomes by increasing voter participation is great as well. Frankly, if Battleground Texas wants to regain some ground, and some credibility, between now and 2016 I’d strongly advise them to look around at the various municipal and school board elections that will happen in 2015, identify some targets and some candidates, and work to get them elected. Doing so would help keep the kind of voters they want to target engaged, it would help put some future candidates for other offices in place to start doing good and building a record, and it give them a chance to apply whatever lessons they learned from this election while maybe claiming a victory or three to build on for 2016. Honestly, the conservative movement figured this out thirty or forty year ago. Isn’t it time we catch up a bit?

Related Posts:

2 Comments

  1. Mainstream says:

    This analysis is wrong on so many levels.

    First, it did not take a lawsuit for this to happen. If my memory is correct at least two “persons of color” have served on this board in the past when the voters were even more overwhelmingly white. Randy Bates, appointed in 1991, elected to a six year term in 1993 is African-American, and served as board chair when this community college system was known as North Harris Montgomery Community College District. Hispanic Dr. Martin Basaldua served on the board from 1991-98. There may be several others, as I don’t live near the area.

    Second, I think Murillo was unopposed in his district, so I am not sure what that shows about local race-linked voting behavior. I am not even sure his is really a majority-minority district when citizenship status is taken into account.

    Third, district seats advantage some minority candidates and harm others. A Latino aspiring board member who happens to live in a mostly Anglo area of the jurisdiction might prefer to run at large, rather than have a block of possible supporters cut away from him and carved into a single member district. On the other hand if you are a minority politician living in a heavily minority neighborhood, perhaps victory is easier, and the cost of campaigning is less.

    Fourth, as blacks, Asians, and Hispanics disperse into housing more widely, it will be increasingly difficult to draw districts which corral enough of a minority group into a single district to make separate racial and ethnic districts possible. In the near future drawing such districts will be as difficult as drawing a district only for Methodists, or only for vegetarians. If someone’s goal is to encourage racial or ethnic minority service in public office, a system allowing a voter to place all 9 of his votes on a single candidate, or split them as he wishes, might be more workable, and might allow other non-racial minorities a chance at service as well. You might get a school board made of one creationist, one lgbt, one business leader, one union leader, etc. if folks with a passion could use a cumulative voting scheme. And those voters who want to vote along racial lines could do so and perhaps elect members as well.

    Fifth, Congressional District 23 just elected the first African American Republican to Congress from Texas, from a district 61% Hispanic and less than 4% black. Locally there are Asian Americans representing mostly Anglo or mixed districts, and within Texas two black Republicans serve mostly white districts. So creation of gerrymandered single member districts, many of which divide communities and neighborhoods in contorted fashion to gather together minority voters, is not the only way to achieve the election of minority persons to office. There is some merit to the idea that small, racially constructed district could serve as an incubator to create a backbench of minority candidates who could go on to win other public offices. But the structure of the districts is actually a detriment to their future political aspirations, because to the degree they vote on issues and make public statements to pander to a heavily minority voter base needed to win and hold the majority-minority political seat, they ruin their chances to build coalitions which could appeal to a broader spectrum of voters.

    The best way to get past racial discrimination, is to quit emphasizing and discriminating by race, especially in the structuring of our political districts.

  2. Chris Daniel says:

    The Chronicles’ analysis is wrong. During my time alone, there were 5 minorities on the board:

    Randy Bates (the longest serving trustee in the college’s history; lost re-election in 2012) is African-American

    Priscilla Kelly (third longest serving trustee; just declined to run again this cycle) African-American

    Maria Flotte O’Neill (Resigned to move out of district to be closer to work) Hispanic http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/archives/nhmccd-trustee-resigns/article_da5dce61-0824-517a-8183-607a191a6302.html

    Martin Basaldula (appointed twice to the board) Hispanic

    and of course my replacement Tom Forestier (appointed but lost re-election) Hispanic

    Without commenting on the new single-member districts, I am merely pointing out the Chronicle is incomplete on their NHMCCD/ Lone Star College Board History