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.

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5 Responses to Why bother campaigning for the SBOE?

  1. Matt says:

    TX Election Code Section 145.035 rises again!

    The law was passed in 1983 because of concern about subversion of the primary process by “stalking horse” candidates, who drop out in favor of others. (See http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions%5Cpub%5C06/06-50812-CV0.wpd.pdf footnote 19)

    Longtime readers f this blog will remember that this is how Nick Lampson (D) wound up replacing Tom Delay (R) – Delay withdrew from the race after winning the primary and being indicted for multiple felonies; the GOP was not allowed to replace him on the ballot.


    It cuts both ways, and I think it’s a good law. Shame on Dems if the nominated candidate is not the strongest one.

  2. That was a slightly different situation, in that DeLay made the novel argument that we was forced to withdraw because he had made himself ineligible for the office by “moving” to Virginia, and this meant that he could be replaced on the ballot. The courts didn’t buy it, and so there was no GOP candidate for CD22 on the ballot that year. I agree that the principle is the same, and unless an actual lawyer can convince me otherwise, I believe the outcome will be the same if either of these candidates drops out.

  3. Mainstream says:

    A quick google search of Marisa B. Perez turned up an uninformative video of a candidate forum sponsored by League of Women Voters in San Antonio in which Perez commented on a desire to hold mental health training for educators, and mentioned statistics regarding autism and ADHD. She is a social worker and graduate of UT Austin.

    I will be surprised if she turns out to be a Manchurian candidate, but she never responded to an April posting on her meager Facebook page inquiring about her platform, so she could be hiding her views until she takes office. Her GOP opponent is despicable, not a reasonable alternative.

  4. joshua bullard says:

    listen, the jury is still out on traci jensen-she was not endorsed by the chronicle for a reason,i am still looking into her race,but from what i see for now,if i had to vote for either lady in this race today to keep our kids safe and well educated i would have to go with the republican woman that is favored to win,but like i said, i am still looking at it, i have met with traci jensen several times in person and here are my concerns-she comes off giving gaurded answers and is very evasive and she is really “wordy” with her responses,i will have to con tinue to view this race further.

    hold your vote for now, thanks joshua ben bullard

  5. Pingback: The TFN on the SBOE – Off the Kuff

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