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Silvia Mintz

Endorsement watch: HCDE and District E

The Chron endorses three Democrats for the Harris County Department of Education.

At-Large Position 3: Democratic challenger Diane Trautman would bring expertise and professionalism to the job. As a professor of education at Stephen F. Austin State University, she taught courses in ethics and leadership – areas that would be useful on the county board, which astoundingly lacks an ethics policy. With previous banking experience, she’s strong in finance. And knows first-hand how the department helps schools. As principal of Tomball Junior High, Trautman saved enough by ordering supplies through the co-op that she was able to fund a science program.

Position 6, Precinct 1: Democratic nominee Erica Lee would be a strong advocate for Head Start and Early Childhood Intervention. As a first-grade teacher at HISD’s Lantrip Elementary, she says, she could easily tell which kids had benefited from those programs.

Position 4, Precinct 3: Silvia Mintz knows first-hand the importance of education to achieving the American dream. In 1998, when she came to the United States from Guatemala, she worked as a janitor. “My first words in English,” she says, “were ‘Windex’ and ‘mop.'” After attending community-college classes, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of St. Thomas; then received her law degree at South Texas College of Law. Now in private practice, she’d be a strong advocate for expansion of Head Start.

Trautman is of course running against the ridiculous Michael Wolfe. Lee, who thankfully won the runoff in that screwed-up primary, will easily complete the single easiest pickup opportunity that 2012 has to offer. As I said before, Silvia Mintz is the kind of person I want to see get elected to something. I’m just glad she showed up for the editorial board screening. If at least one of Trautman and Mintz join Lee in being elected, the HCDE board will become majority Democratic, not too shabby considering that four years ago at this time it was all Republican.

Meanwhile, the Chron makes the establishment choice in the special election for City Council District E.

David Martin

With a resume that boasts companies like Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, [David] Martin has the accounting background that Houston needs in a time of pension problems and budget challenges. But in addition to this financial expertise, Martin also has an energetic optimism about the city that voters should want in their elected officials. He talks about his time on the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority – where he has served as chairman of the finance committee and secretary/treasurer – like a microcosm of Houston: a diverse group of people all pulling in the same direction. As Martin explains, it is that diversity and energy that makes Houston a wonderful place to live and work, not to mention how they create an appealing location for business.

[…]

Martin already has several projects in mind for his extensive district. He’d like to build a fire station on the west side of Kingwood and another for Clear Lake. Martin’s also interested in integrating flight training and engineering at Ellington Field with science programs at local schools, better tourist passes for the Lone Star Flight Museum and Johnson Space Center … the list goes on. This is the sort of on-the-ground knowledge you’d would expect from an incumbent.

With an eye on fiscal responsibility and a heart for Houston, Dave Martin offers the best choice for District E voters.

See here for the Chron overview of that race. With three candidates, there is the possibility of a runoff, and with a special election looming for SD06, things could get a little complicated. The sensible solution would be to schedule both elections at the same time.

[Harris County Clerk Stan] Stanart said his office is coordinating with Perry’s as to when a special election for the senate seat could be held — perhaps in tandem with a city runoff, and perhaps not.

“There’s potential logistics roadblock that could come up if we had a runoff already scheduled,” Stanart said. “You don’t want to confuse voters having two early votings going on at the same time. We’re looking at calendars, what makes the most sense.”

As we know from the special election in District H in 2009, only the early voting centers in the affected district would be open for SD06 and District E. It certainly would be best to have them all open at the same time, and only once if there’s any overlap. We’ll see how that plays out.

Overview of the HCDE races

The Chron has an overview of the races for the Harris County Department of Education, and in describing the one At Large race between incumbent Michael Wolfe and Democratic challenger Diane Trautman they do the useful service of describing what the HCDE does.

Diane Trautman

The department supports the county’s 26 independent school districts. It operates a co-op that allows the districts to buy food and supplies at lower prices. The department also runs adult-education programs, administers federal Head Start grants and Early Childhood Intervention programs, and supports after-school initiatives.

Most of the department’s budget comes from state and federal grants and fees for service paid by the districts.

Trautman said her opponent wants to abolish the department and has been censured by the board for unethical behavior.

Wolfe acknowledged that he would support abolishing the department, saying that he believes taxpayers pay twice for education. The 2008 censure, he said, was in retaliation because he was pushing for lower taxes.

In 2009, the board tried to remove him from office because they said he had a disregard for the department and its procedures and disrespect for the board.

Here’s what was said about Wolfe at the time:

Fellow trustee Jim Henley said the movement to oust Wolfe is based on his numerous absences and Wolfe’s “lack of acting in the best interests of the department.”

The board considered removing Wolfe for incompetence last year, but Wolfe appealed for a second chance and pledged to adhere to a list of ethical practices.

Henley said Wolfe has violated that pledge and continues to miss meetings without informing the board ahead of time of his absences — or explaining them afterward.

Board members voted 6-0 Monday night to seek Wolfe’s ouster from the $72-a-year position.

See here, here, and here for more on this. Henley is one of only two Democrats on the board right now, so that means four fellow Republicans voted to pursue ousting Wolfe. If you think they did so because they didn’t like him pushing for lower taxes, I’d say that’s pretty naive. Plus, as you may recall, it wasn’t just Wolfe’s board colleagues who didn’t like him. Read this letter from County School Superintendent John Sawyer to Wolfe from December of 2007 for a reminder of that. Wolfe is a clown, and in a just world he’ll be sent back to the private sector in a couple of weeks.

The race for Position 4, Precinct 3, between Republican Kay Smith, who successfully primaried the more moderate Raymond Garcia, and Silvia Mintz, is frustrating to me.

Silvia Mintz

In the Position 4 race, Smith, 61, a Republican, said she wants to bring more department transparency. She said it often is difficult to get information about operations and how money is spent.

“I want to know what we are doing with those tax dollars to ensure better education,” Smith said.

Mintz, her Democratic opponent, did not return calls.

On her campaign website, Mintz, 38, said she entered the race because she believes it is important to “protect the American Dream through education.”

Mintz ran for HD132 in 2010. She has a compelling personal story, and I was impressed by her when I interviewed her for tat race. She’s the kind of person I’d like to see get elected to something. But I have no idea what she’s doing in this race. She reported nothing raised and nothing spent on her 30 day finance report, after minimal activity on her July report. I made numerous attempts to reach her for an interview, but like the Chron never heard from her. Her campaign website appears to have been last updated in December, when she announced her candidacy. Her Facebook page indicates some activity, but that’s about it. She would be a distinct underdog in this race, but then so are people like Paul Sadler and Traci Jensen and Cody Pogue, all of whom have run active, highly visible campaigns. All I can say is that I’m terribly disappointed. I wish I knew what was going on with her.

Interview with Silvia Mintz

Silvia Mintz

Our third candidate this week is one of the more interesting people you’ll meet this cycle. Silvia Mintz came to the US from Guatemala when she was 17. She worked as a janitor and a nanny, learned English, and eventually wound up at the University of St. Thomas, where she graduated with a degree in political science, and the South Texas College of Law. This KTRK story provides a concise biography; you can get more from my post on her in January, and this La Voz article if you are Spanish-enabled. She was also quoted a fair amount in the Chron story on the recent Latino summit, though for some reason it didn’t identify her as a candidate for office. Which she is – she is running in HD132 against Rep. Bill Callegari, who has not had an opponent in his Katy-area district since the 2001 redistricting. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Silvia Mintz

Another thing I need to do now that the filing deadline has passed is try to learn about some of the late entrants. It turns out that Silvia Mintz, who filed to run in HD132, has a heck of a story to tell.

Twelve years ago, Silvia Mintz came to America with little more than a dream and the desire to earn a living and support her family. She worked minimum-wage jobs as a janitor and nanny just to make ends meet. But to see her today, you would never guess she started out from such humble beginnings.

That’s because over the course of these past 12 years, Mintz has created an entirely new life for herself. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas, graduated from law school, passed the bar exam and co-founded her own law firm in Houston, Plake & Mintz, PLLC.

Read it and be impressed. I look forward to meeting her during the campaign. Thanks in part to a large influx of new residents out in the western part of Harris County HD132 was a lot less red than it has been in the past in 2008 – Adrian Garcia got nearly 46% there – and incumbent Bill Callegari hasn’t had a Democratic opponent since 2000, when he was in HD130, so he may be a wee bit out of practice on the campaign trail. If she can raise some money and get some grassroots support going, this race could be a sleeper.