Businessman, Teacher Survive Texas Balloting

By Ben Wear — March 20, 2002 5 min read
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Texas’ Democratic Party muckety-mucks have been talking for months about a “dream ticket” for November. Victor Morales, a high school teacher and underdog political candidate, is definitely not the man of their dreams.

Nonetheless, Mr. Morales, the little educator that (almost) could in his 1996 U.S. Senate bid, last week kept alive his own dream of becoming a senator by making it to an April 9 runoff for the Democratic nomination against former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, the party leaders’ preferred candidate. The winner will face Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, a Republican.

Meanwhile, in the March 12 Democratic primary for governor, multimillionaire businessman Tony Sanchez easily swamped former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales—no relation to Victor. Mr. Sanchez will run against Republican Gov. Rick Perry in November.

Both candidates for the governorship oppose raising taxes to address either K-12 education needs or an estimated $5 billion projected deficit in the state’s next two-year budget.

The most meaningful action for Texas education may have been far down the ballot, where all 15 seats on the Texas state board of education were up for grabs.

That board in recent years has been a curious and contentious mix of two GOP factions—six socially conservative Republicans and four somewhat less conservative “Bush” Republicans—and five Democrats.

Board Jousting

The internecine doings of the board were evident in the GOP primary. The upshot: The board will have a new chairman next year, but the balance of power is likely to remain unchanged.

“We’ll be the same as we are,” said Dan Montgomery, a retired teacher and basketball coach from Fredericksburg, a town in central Texas’ Hill Country. Mr. Montgomery, the District 5 board member, won his primary race. He and some of his GOP colleagues have been at odds with the board’s social conservatives over various issues, the most prominent of which has been investment tactics for the $18.8 billion Permanent School Fund that the board controls.

Three members of the socially conservative bloc didn’t run again. In one of those districts, a candidate aligned with the social-conservatives prevailed, while two like-minded candidates lost.

Two other social conservatives won, however, leaving that faction with six members going into November. The 10-5 ratio of Republicans to Democrats, given redistricting last year that bunched voters from each party in various districts, likely will not change after the fall election, Mr. Montgomery said. In addition, six of the Republicans and four of the Democrats who won their primaries face no candidates from the opposing party in November.

The mixed results for the more conservative bloc of the school board included a win by Linda Bauer, who easily took the nomination for the East Texas district now held by the board’s chairwoman, Grace Shore. Ms. Shore was appointed by Gov. Perry last year to lead the board. Ms. Bauer benefited from a voter mailing that cost some $13,000, paid for by the Prestonwood Country Club PAC.

Board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller and her husband, Vance Miller, who hold a significant interest in the north Dallas golf and tennis club, and financial consultant Russell Stein contributed the entire $42,800 in the PAC’s account, according to campaign reports. Ms. Miller, according to Mr. Montgomery, also gave money to the campaigns of his foe and another social conservative who won in the GOP primary.

Mr. Stein had worked for the state school board, offering investment advice for the Permanent School Fund. Mr. Stein and the board, under Ms. Shore’s leadership, parted ways last year. In addition, Ms. Shore removed some of the socially conservative faction from a board panel that oversees the school fund. Ms. Bauer could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Miller said the festering divide comes down primarily to investment philosophy.

Her side, she said, wants to protect the fund’s principal with conservative investments because the earnings pay for Texas textbooks. As for the fliers that targeted Ms. Shore’s candidacy, Ms. Miller said they were based on the chairwoman’s voting record. Ms. Shore and Mr. Montgomery, she said, likewise worked to elect a GOP slate of candidates they supported.

The board, which has seen a gradual erosion of its duties by a legislature increasingly restive with its stewardship of Texas’ 4 million students, still retains power over curriculum, graduation requirements, charter schools, and other issues.

‘Scrub the Budget’

In the race for governor, Mr. Sanchez declares on his campaign Web site that “education is my passion and will be my top priority.” According to the site, as governor he would put more money into the classroom and less into administration, “free teachers to teach,” and reduce class sizes.

Despite being a Democrat, Mr. Sanchez was named by Mr. Bush to the University of Texas board of regents, on which he still serves. He made his estimated $600 million fortune primarily in banking and the oil and gas business.

Mr. Sanchez, who beat Dan Morales with just under 61 percent of last week’s primary votes, said he would “scrub the budget” for inefficiencies to pay for smaller classes and other costs. New taxes, he said, are not an option.

Victor Morales, reached on his cellphone at an Austin hotel the day after the primary, was upbeat. En route to earning a run-off spot in the Senate race, he has taught five 9th grade geography classes at Kemp High School southeast of Dallas, campaigned on weekends and evenings, and spent less than $10,000.

Mr. Kirk, who had 33 percent of the primary vote to Mr. Morales’ 33.4 percent, had raised more than $1.6 million by late February. He figures to be endorsed by U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen of Houston, who finished third last week with almost 27 percent of the vote. Mr. Kirk, who is African-American, is expected to run strong with blacks.

All in all, it’s not a promising scenario for Mr. Morales. But people said the same thing six years ago when he upset two members of Congress to grab the Democratic nod. He got an impressive 44 percent of the vote in that November’s general election against Republican Sen. Phil Gramm.

“If it’s not meant to be, I’ll go home a very happy man with my family,” Mr. Morales said last week. “I still love teaching.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 20, 2002 edition of Education Week as Businessman, Teacher Survive Texas Balloting


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