This article appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Classroom Teacher.

Voter turnout remained low in the March primaries, despite increased interest and participation by educators. Early on, observers predicted a “blue wave” due to a surge of early voters in the Democratic primary. The final numbers, though, continued to favor the Republican Party by roughly half a million voters.

There were efforts within the education community to unseat Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other legislators who favor voucher proposals or have otherwise appeared hostile to public education. Few educators are happy with the current political climate with regard to education, but translating that feeling into action at the polls proved to be tricky. The influence of groups such as Parent PAC and Texans for Public Education seemed to manifest primarily in helping to keep incumbents they considered friendly in office. Attempts to topple current officeholders such as Patrick, who won his primary with more than 75 percent of the vote, were less successful. 

Primary election results held few surprises, although seven current legislators were unseated. Notably, former TCTA Friend of Education Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) regained his House seat in a narrow win over Rep. Diana Arevalo. Arevalo was a friendly vote, but TMF, as he is known at the Capitol, has a reputation as something of a firebrand and is a fierce defender of public education.

A handful of primary races headed to a runoff after no candidate gained more than 50 percent of the vote. Several of these feature candidates with very different approaches to education policy, and turnout in run-off elections is so low that races can be won or lost by a handful of votes, which means teacher influence can be very effective. Of special note are key Republican runoffs in House District 4 (Athens area), HD 8 (Corsicana area), HD 54 (Killeen area), HD 62 (Sherman area) and HD 121 (San Antonio). Voters in these areas should take note, do your research, and show up at the polls in May. TCTA’s TexasTeachersVote.org website includes information on these candidates, including voting records for incumbents, as well as whether a candidate received support from pro-education groups or a contribution from TCTA’s political action committee. 

More change is on the horizon. Two state senators are likely to resign their seats: Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, due to legal problems, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, due to her expected move to Congress. These resignations would trigger special elections. At least one current House member (Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio) has announced his plans to run for Uresti’s seat, and two current House members (Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Ana Hernandez, D-Houston) are among those vying for Garcia’s seat.

Keep up the political activism

What’s at stake:

  • Funding for schools
  • Standardized testing
  • Health insurance costs
  • Teacher salary growth
  • Retirement security
  • School safety and student discipline
  • Assistance for special populations
  • Keeping teacher voices strong

TCTA promotes political activism because the consequences are so very important. Electing a pro-public education, pro-teacher legislature helps your lobbyists as we represent you at the Capitol — after all, much like teachers in the classroom, we can only work with what we are given!

Runoff election 101

The runoffs for the primary elections are on May 22, with early voting from May 14 to 18. If you voted in the March primary, you can only vote in a runoff in the party you voted for in the primary. For example, if you voted in the Republican primary, you cannot vote in a Democratic runoff. If you did not vote in the primary and are registered, you can vote in a runoff for either party.

What next?

As important as the March primaries were, educators not happy with the results still have opportunities to make a difference. 

In November, there will be a few opportunities to vote out unfriendly state legislators in swing districts. While Texas is still considered a solidly red state, Democrats are expected to gain a little ground in the House. There is even growing interest in Patrick’s general election race against Mike Collier. Media reports have noted that between Democratic voters and those who voted for Patrick’s opponent Scott Milder in the primary, more Texans voted against Patrick in March than for him.

Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill noted once that “all politics is local.” Teachers unhappy with compensation, benefits and working conditions can effect change by getting involved in local school board elections. Teachers have the right to be actively involved in school board elections as long as school resources are not used. If all teachers voted in school board elections, they would effectively have the ability to elect trustees who are not only pro-education, but also pro-teacher. Teachers should get to know trustees, appreciate them, and show up at school board meetings. (See View from the other side on page 14.) 

Political activity does not stop at voting. Teachers must get involved in campaigns. If a pro-educator candidate is running for office, go to the fundraiser and give $10 or $20. Get on the candidate’s mailing list. Volunteer to walk a block or work a telephone bank. While you can do this for members running for re-election, it is particularly useful to get involved in races where a new candidate is running. Such candidates remember who helped them early on. 

Make sure you are signed up for emails from TCTA and check our website, so you know when to call legislators about important bills being considered by the legislature. Constituents have much more political power than any association or lobbyist.

There are groups that actually fear the power that teachers have and are trying to stifle it. Bills to prohibit payroll deduction of association dues are one tactic. Efforts to intimidate pro-education voters through legal challenges and open records requests are another. These groups need to be resisted by teachers who are ready to protect their students, their schools, and their own rights and benefits.