If you’re unhappy about the decision-making in Austin during the 2011 session, you have a chance to make a difference this year - but you will need to be informed and involved. Here’s what you need to know.

Background on this year’s elections: Chaos reigns

It’s hard to remember a more tumultuous redistricting process than the one we’ve experienced in 2011-12 (although the redistricting of 2003 is certainly a contender, when legislators redrew the maps that had been drawn in 2001, prompting quorum-busting trips to Oklahoma and New Mexico by protesting Democratic legislators). 

The original date for the spring primary in Texas was Super Tuesday (March 6), so named because several states hold their primaries on this date. It is significant in presidential politics because of the relatively large number of delegates that can be gained on this one day.

But legal challenges to the newly-drawn boundaries for the Texas Congressional delegation and the Texas House and Senate, based primarily on concerns that the new districts did not appropriately reflect growth in minority populations, delayed formal approval of the legislative maps. After months of judicial consideration, new maps were released in February, accompanied by a court-ordered primary date of May 29. 

The ups and downs of the current election cycle, and the additional drama of a contentious Republican presidential primary, have left voters feeling confused and perhaps disgruntled about the entire process. 

Why teachers can win this

We expect a relatively large turnover in the Texas House in this year’s elections – 31 of 150 House members are not running for re-election (many are resigning, a handful are running for another office), and the redistricting process is likely to cut short the careers of a few more. That presents an opportunity for real change in how education issues are determined in the next legislative session.

Teachers have the numbers! The chaos, a late primary date, and voter dissatisfaction bring the potential for low voter turnout. While we would not make the argument that this is good for democracy in general, it certainly provides an opportunity for a motivated group to be very influential. We need to make sure that group is teachers! The downside of low voter turnout is that the most active members of the parties – generally those at the extreme ends of the political spectrum – tend to have more influence, and that isn’t always a good thing for teachers. 

An interesting trend to be aware of is that a number of current or former school board members are running for election. While generally supportive of public education, many also have an administrative perspective when they arrive in the Legislature, which caused many problems for teachers in the last legislative session. As TCTA evaluates these candidates, we welcome input from our members regarding any such candidates from your own school boards. 

When/Where/How

As noted above, the new primary date is May 29. This is a terrible date for teachers – right at the end of the school year, and the day after the Memorial Day holiday. Early voting will be the key to having a positive influence on these elections. Check with your local voting office (or call or email TCTA if you need help) to determine where you can take advantage of early voting. The early voting period is May 14 - 25. 

Don’t wait for the November election to get informed and involved. Many, if not most, races are determined at the primary level, because district lines are drawn to favor a particular party. There are a few swing districts, though, so be aware of the politics of your own House and Senate districts.

TCTA is providing information on candidates through our affiliate website TexasTeachersVote.org. This site allows you to look up your legislative districts and determine the Republican and Democratic candidates, provides voting records on key education issues for incumbent legislators from the 2011 legislative session, and includes links to survey responses for candidates who have answered our candidate questionnaire. TCTA will also send a customized mailing to each of our members prior to the primary election including this information.