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Marisa Perez

SBOE updates sex ed curriculum

All things considered, especially the past history of the State Board of Education and its shenanigans, this could have been worse. It’s not great, but the potential for disaster was monumentally high.

The Texas State Board of Education gave preliminary approval this week to a sex education policy that includes teaching middle schoolers about birth control beyond abstinence — its first attempt to revise that policy since 1997.

In jam-packed meetings held Wednesday through Friday, the 15-member Republican-dominated board came one step closer to revising minimum standards for what Texas students learn about health and sex. It is expected to take a final vote in November.

The board voted to teach seventh and eighth grade students to “analyze the effectiveness and the risks and failure rates … of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods in the prevention of STDs, STIs and pregnancy,” in addition to the importance of abstinence. Currently, learning about birth control methods beyond abstinence is only a requirement in high school, where health education is an optional course.

But the board rejected proposals to teach middle school students about the importance of consent or teach any students to define gender identity and sexual orientation.


Over the last several months, panels of educators and medical professionals formulated recommendations to overhaul the health and sex education policies.

Board members clashed on several edits to those recommendations, including whether to include explicit reference to sexual orientation and gender identity. On Thursday and Friday, Ruben Cortez, a Brownsville Democrat, unsuccessfully proposed teaching middle schoolers and high schoolers to define sexual orientation and gender identity. He said the proposals would help LGBTQ students, who studies show have a higher rate of suicide attempts in part due to discrimination.

“One of my children this summer came out to us and the fact that she had to bottle that in for years thinking that we wouldn’t accept her,” he said, getting choked up as he spoke. “It’s difficult to imagine what other students who don’t live in a tolerant house would go through if we don’t insert language like this to help our students.”

Most Republicans on the board opposed his proposal, saying they would rather not include it in the minimum standards schools are required to teach. Instead, they said, they would rather let local school districts vote to add LGBTQ issues to their own health education policies, since state law gives them that flexibility. Matt Robinson, from Friendswood, was the sole Republican who voted with Democrats to add the language Friday.

“I would like to see this left up to being a community decision,” said Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican.

“I don’t think at the high school level we can afford to be cryptic with regards to our youth,” said Marisa Perez-Diaz, a Converse Democrat. “Identity exists. We need to talk about it regardless of one’s sensitivity and discomfort.”

Most Republicans also opposed Cortez’s proposals Thursday and Friday to teach middle and high school students to “explain the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Instead, they approved teaching students to prevent “all forms of bullying and cyberbullying such as emotional, physical, social and sexual.” Schools can choose to include bullying as a result of sexual orientation and gender identity in those lessons, Republicans said.

On Wednesday night, board members battled over whether to teach sixth graders the definition of consent as it relates to physical intimacy and to “explain why all physical contact should be consensual.” Republicans said consent was a legally murky concept and instead prioritized students learning to be able to say no to unwanted approaches.

“In my opinion, refusal skills, personal boundaries, personal privacy covers this area at this age,” said Marty Rowley, an Amarillo Republican. “Eleven and 12 is too young in my opinion.”

I’d argue that stuff needs to be discussed from the time the kid is in preschool. Which, in a good preschool, it often is. It’s basic bodily autonomy, as in no one has the right to touch you if you don’t want them to. I don’t think it gets all that more complicated when you’re talking about touch in an explicitly sexual context. I can understand why people may be uncomfortable with that, but that’s just too bad. This was a significant missed opportunity.

Same thing with sexual orientation and gender identity. Perhaps what some people fail to understand is that the kids themselves are a lot more comfortable with that subject than many adults are. And kids who are gay or trans or nonbinary generally know who they are by middle school. We can’t choose to not engage with them on the subject. It’s alienating and insulting to them. Leaving it up to the locals may sound like a reasonable compromise, except that we know some school districts are hostile to LGBTQ students, and could not be trusted to set this material themselves. Some minimum level of standard is needed, and the SBOE whiffed on it. Basically, what was needed in both of these cases was honest, factual information, which would benefit all of the students. This change will not provide it to them, and that is a significant failure on the SBOE’s part.

The good news is the baby step away from abstinence-only education, which is a travesty with harmful repercussions. It’s not enough, but any movement in that direction is welcome. If we can take advantage of the opportunity we have this fall to elect some better members to the SBOE, maybe we can take more steps in that direction, and get on the right track with these other matters. The Chron and Reform Austin have more.

Just don’t call it “Mexican-American studies”

The SBOE does its thing.

Marisa Perez-Diaz

Texas advocates for Mexican-American studies classes won a bitter victory Wednesday, gaining approval to move forward with the class they wanted but losing the course title.

The State Board of Education had been debating more than four years over how and whether to offer teachers materials and guidance to teach Mexican-American studies. In a preliminary vote, the board voted nearly unanimously to create curriculum standards for the elective class. But now it will be called “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

A final vote on the issue [was] scheduled for Friday.

The class will be based on an innovative course Houston ISD got state approval to offer in 2015. Texas Education Agency staff will make any needed changes to that set of curriculum standards and then bring it back for the first of two public hearings and votes in June.

Lawrence Allen Jr., a Houston Democrat, was the only member to vote against the newly named course, expressing support for Mexican-American studies but criticizing the new title.

Starting a fierce debate with Democrats on the board, Beaumont Republican David Bradley proposed the new name for the course. When asked why he didn’t want to keep “Mexican-American studies,” he said, “I don’t subscribe to hyphenated Americanism. … I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”

“As someone who identifies as Mexican-American, your experience is unlike my experience,” San Antonio Democrat Marisa Perez-Diaz retorted. “I’m asking you to be inclusive.”

See here for more about the HISD course that was the model for this, and here for more about David Bradley, who has done this kind of crap before. The final approval was given Friday, but not without further controversy.

Tension continued to mount Friday even after State Board of Education members gave final approval to going forward with a new Mexican-American studies high school elective but refused to keep the class’ original name.

“Discrimination.” “Cloaking bigotry.” “Bull.” Those are words Marisa Perez-Diaz of the Texas Board of Education used in a statement to describe the board’s decision to rename a long-sought-after “Mexican-American Studies” elective course “Ethnic Studies,” a decision that has touched off a new wave racial tension.

While members of the board voted unanimously to create a high school elective that delves into Mexican-American studies Friday, nine Republicans on the board insisted on renaming the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent” after David Bradley, a member from Beaumont, said he rejects “hyphenated Americanism.”

“Today was not a victory, but a slap in the face,” said Perez-Diaz, a Democrat from Converse who is Mexican-American, said in a statement Friday. “The time has finally come to call this what it is … DISCRIMINATION!”

In a long press release she posted on Facebook, Perez-Diaz said the board’s vote told her and the state’s Mexican-American students to identify themselves as “Americans of Mexican Descent.”

“The time for cloaking bigotry and/or fear of diversity under the guise of ‘patriotism’ and ‘Americanism’ is over,” she said. “My experience is as American as apple pie, because guess what, my ancestors were on this land well before it was conquered and named America.”

You can read her full statement here. Among other things, she notes that the courses African American Studies, Native American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Asian Pacific Islander American Studies were all approved. Just not “Mexican American studies”. You do the math. TFN has more.

Publisher of crappy Mexican American Studies textbook defends said textbook

It’s not that crappy, she swears.

The publisher of a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that scholars, elected officials and Hispanic activists have decried as racist and inaccurate is defending the high school text ahead of a public hearing on the book Tuesday before the Texas State Board of Education.

“There’s never been a book in the history of SBOE that’s been attacked so prematurely in the process,” said Cynthia Dunbar, a former right-wing Republican member of the education board who now heads the educational curriculum company that produced the textbook.

The text, titled Mexican American Heritage and published by Momentum Instruction, was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. The powerful 15-member panel sets statewide curriculum and approves textbooks.


Dunbar, who had not previously responded to interview requests, told The Texas Tribune on Monday that criticisms have been overblown and that most of them are based on a draft copy that her company has since revised. Changes include corrections of at least a few factual errors — one identified by an SBOE-appointed review board — and other tweaks in response to public feedback. The passage that implied that Mexican-American laborers are lazy has been “clarified,” Dunbar said, while contending that critics took that particular bit out of context.

“It exposed a racial bias stereotyped against them,” she said, noting that the review board found that the book totally met state curriculum standards.

“The point is there’s no hidden agenda here,” she added.

See here and here for some background. It’s nice that Dunbar says the book has undergone revisions and fixed some errors since it first appeared, but Dunbar has a long history of saying and doing ugly things, so her credibility isn’t very high. I’ll wait to hear from someone more trustworthy before I believe there’s any merit to her publication. In the meantime, the advice of rejecting this book and (one hopes) getting other groups to write them remains sound. See this open letter from SBOE member Marisa Perez for more.

The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any support for adopting this textbook.

Hundreds of Hispanic advocates, activists, students and elected officials from across the state on Tuesday called on the Texas Board of Education to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook they blasted as blatantly racist and which many scholars have deemed historically inaccurate.

The 15-member education board took public input on the text during an hours-long public hearing at which some of the panel’s Republican members criticized the Legislature for diminishing the education board’s power to vet textbooks.

The panel will vote to accept or reject the text in November, when it will hold a second public hearing.


Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, who was so concerned about the text that he convened an ad-hoc committee of scholars and educators to review it, said he believes a supermajority of his colleagues will vote to reject it. (A report his committee unveiled last week found that the text is littered with errors.) Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, described the text Tuesday as “dead on arrival” and board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he has “real concerns” about it.

Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, kicked off the public hearing with a heartfelt message dedicated to “Mexican-American colleagues, friends and neighbors,” assuring them that the board is committed to approving accurate instructional materials that adequately reflect their major role in U.S. society.

“Your story is part of the American story,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner.”

Several Republican board members criticized Texas legislators on Tuesday for passing laws over the years that have diminished the panel’s authority to decide what textbooks local school districts use. And they warned that their weakened oversight could mean the proliferation of even more controversial instructional material.

They pointed specifically to legislation approved in 2011 that allowed school districts to choose textbooks that haven’t been approved by the board as long as they can show their instructional materials cover state curriculum standards. (Senate Bill 6, passed in the wake of a raucous, high-profile debate over social studies curriculum in which members of the board’s since-diminished social conservative block — including Dunbar — grabbed national headlines for their extreme comments.)

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and other board members complained repeatedly Tuesday that the law allows for publishers to peddle problematic textbooks directly to school districts. He and former board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked Democratic Hispanic lawmakers who addressed the board if they’d be willing to reconsider those parameters.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, acknowledged that “legislation has a history of unintended consequences and this very well may be a case.”The Senate Education Committee is “looking at everything including this issue you’re bringing up,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who is a member of that panel, told the board.

But Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was not to “re-litigate” old legislation but discuss whether the text should be allowed in Texas classrooms.

“Not only does this book not belong in the classroom, it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s getting now,” he said.

I agree, but at least all the attention has accomplished one thing, and that’s the real need for a much better textbook. Let’s hope the next time around we get more than one possible candidates for that.

SBOE does something OK

I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

Instead of making Mexican-American studies an official high school course, the Texas State Board of Education has settled on a tentative compromise that would allow school districts to decide whether to offer the course.

“It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping, with a stand-alone course for Mexican-American studies,” member Marisa Perez, a San Antonio Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

In an 11-3 vote, board members added the class — along with African-American studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies — to the list of instructional materials that publishers will develop for Texas social studies standards in the 2016-17 school year. That means schools will have a list of state-approved textbooks and other resources to choose from if they opt to give the class.

“This will enable districts to teach courses in Mexican-American studies, African-American studies, Native American studies if they choose to do so,” said board member Marty Rowley, who spoke in favor of the motion, supporting local development of the courses for school districts. “There is curriculum out there, there are materials out there, and publishers are free to submit those materials.”

The board will have a final vote on Friday.

See here for the background. While the vote is encouraging, the Observer notes that the crazy people are reacting to this about as you’d expect them to, so don’t get overconfident about this. Stace and TFN Insider have more.

Standing up for science

Sure hope it did some good.

A past Texas State Board of Education chairman and outspoken creationist urged his former colleagues on Tuesday to approve high school biology textbooks he said would “strike a final blow to the teaching of evolution.”

Appearing at a board hearing on new instructional materials, Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who lost his seat on the SBOE in the 2010 Republican primary, told board members that the science textbooks currently under consideration contained many “hidden gems just waiting to be mined by inquisitive students” that proved there was no evidence for evolution.

McLeroy’s testimony diverged from other witnesses skeptical of evolution, who criticized the proposed textbooks for inadequate coverage of alternatives to the scientific theory and asked the board not to approve them until publishers made changes.


The 15-member SBOE won’t vote on the 14 science textbooks currently under consideration until November. Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the board would also discuss revising the state’s textbook approval process, which science education advocates have criticized for allegedly lacking transparency and including unqualified reviewers.

Cargill herself has drawn accusations of improper involvement in the review process from the Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors religious influence in public schools, after reports that she encouraged creationists on the panels. Cargill said she only attended the meetings to thank volunteers for their work reviewing the texts.

State panels have been reviewing sample instructional materials since April. The panels, which are assembled by SBOE members, have included several prominent creationists and evolution skeptics, as well as others without a background in education or science. Their preliminary proposed changes obtained by the Texas Freedom Network pushed for the inclusion of more arguments critical of evolution.


Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, three SBOE members — Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville; Marisa Perez, D-San Antonio; and Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso — expressed their disappointment with the process at a rally organized by the Texas Freedom Network. They said that publishers were being pressured into including non-science based arguments against evolution and called for only “content-relevant educators” to be included on review panels.

Cargill said during the hearing that she had asked publishers to voluntarily disclose for public review any changes they made to textbooks prior to their adoption. She also emphasized that any reports made by review teams were preliminary — and that in November, the board would take up suggestions about how to improve the process.

“I’m very appreciative of the reviewers themselves,” she said. “But we’ve got some work to do.”

Just as Rick Perry works to keep Texas sick, so does Don McLeroy work to keep Texas ignorant. TFN Insider liveblogged the hearing, and also provided some extra background. What happens from here I don’t know, but as always it would be a good idea to stay engaged, and to keep an eye on the November hearing. Finally, kudos to new SBOE members Cortez, Perez, and Dominguez for their involvement. Perez and Dominguez gave us some moments of uncertainty last year, but so far they’ve exceeded my expectations on the board. Eileen Smith and the Stand Up for Science Tumblr have more.

SBOE passes anti-voucher resolution

Good for them.

The Texas State Board of Education voted 10-5 on Friday to urge the Legislature to reject proposals that would result in public funds being allocated for private educational institutions.

The resolution, authored by Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, Jr., D-Brownsville, asks the legislature to “reject all vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.” It mirrored an amendment the House recently passed to the state budget by a wide margin banning the use of public dollars for private schools.


Though the resolution eventually passed, it initially endured stiff opposition from a number of board members – including some who said the issue was outside of the board’s purview.

Member Tom Maynard, R-Georgetown, while stressing that he was a “huge supporter” of public schools, said that the board should leave the issue to the legislature.

“I get the voucher question all the time. And my position is, this isn’t a matter for the SBoE,” he said. “This resolution puts us in a position of commenting on things that are not within our constitutional authority.”

Maynard moved to postpone the resolution indefinitely, which provoked a debate about the role of the State Board in evaluating education policy. Member Marisa B. Perez, D-San Antonio, argued that the issue was central to the Board’s responsibilities.

“Saying that it doesn’t fall under our guise is not an acceptable answer to the teachers who are asking for our support,” she said. “Siphoning money from our public schools and turning them over to our private schools is definitely something we should address.”

The question about going outside the board’s duties is a valid one. The SBOE doesn’t have budgetary authority, but they do play a role in school finance as the trustees of the Permanent School Fund. I don’t have a problem with them passing a non-binding resolution, but I admit I’d feel differently if they had voted in favor of vouchers. I wonder if they were motivated in part to take this action by getting their noses out of joint over their potential loss of charter school oversight.

Only one of the board members explicitly endorsed the proposals condemned in the resolution – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas.

“I believe in the American right to educate my children in the manner that I want,” she said. In addition to Miller and Mercer, other board members that voted against the resolution were chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, and David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

Yes, of course my SBOE member supported vouchers, even though she once said she wouldn’t. Don’t blame me, I voted for Traci Jensen. Hair Balls has more.

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.

Martha and Marisa

Martha Dominguez, the accidental SBOE nominee from El Paso who had been telling people she wanted to drop out of the race before the primary, has decided to stay on the ballot for November, according to the Lion Star blog. He’s not exactly thrilled about it, and I can hardly blame him. I repeat my earlier advice to Dominguez: Run, win, and resign so that someone who actually wants the job can have it.

As for Marisa Perez, no news and no updates on her Facebook page. An updated version of that San Antonio Current article says that a week after their call to her for a comment, she still has not called them back. Awesome.

Meanwhile, in a district that has a worthy candidate, Traci Jensen sent out the following press release earlier this week:

Traci Jensen

Traci Jensen, Democratic nominee for the State Board of Education, District 6, today called upon the Houston Chronicle, Texas PTA, League of Women Voters – Houston, Greater Houston Partnership, and American Association of University Women – Texas, to facilitate a series of debates between Jensen and her Republican opponent Donna Bahorich. In a letter to the five organizations Jensen said “the State Board of Education which oversees the creation of curriculum for Texas public schools is arguably the most important political entity in Texas. However, Texans know very little about the SBOE or its members. Ms. Bahorich and I have major policy and philosophical differences that should be debated throughout SBOE District 6.”

“There are 15 State Board of Education Districts with each representing over 1.6 million people. If SBOE, District 6, were a Texas municipality, we would be the second largest city in the state. SBOE District 6 includes parts, most, or some of ten ISDs. Although we fully intend to conduct a voter intensive campaign, we believe a series of debates will go a long way toward educating the voters on this important position,” added Jensen.

“In 2010, when the State Board of Education dismantled the social studies curriculum, many of our state’s most respected business and civic leadership expressed concern and outrage at the SBOE’s decisions. I believe that it is now all of our responsibility to properly vet the candidates that are running for the SBOE,” continued Jensen.

Traci Jensen has been an educator in the Houston Area for 20 years. Her focus has been to improve public education for all students. She has worked in Aldine ISD as a classroom teacher. She also has experience in Alief, Aldine, Spring Branch, Houston, Katy, and Cy-Fair schools working with future educators. Jensen has a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s in Social Studies Education, and an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.

A copy of the letter sent to the League of Women Voters – Houston follows. Similar letters were sent to the other four organizations.

I’ve put the letter beneath the fold. Jensen is an underdog in a district that was drawn to elect a Republican, but given how big SBOE districts are and how little attention they get the least we voters deserve is the opportunity to hear the favored Republican speak to a general audience about the issues she would face. We’ll see what kind of response she gets.


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.