March On! Texas

Author: Lisa Traugott

A Year After Trump We Scream Why…not?

A Year After Trump We Scream Why…not?

There is an event planned for this evening, across 9 major cities, to scream into the sky helplessly ‘WHY!?!’ to commemorate the anniversary of Donald Trump upsetting politics (and sanity) winning the presidential election a year ago today.

The concept is ridiculously silly and funny, and might be a fun thing to do over cocktails bitching about Trump’s latest tweets.  Yelling ‘why’ is cathartic, like reading Shattered or the damning excerpt of Donna Brazile’s new book in Politico.  Sometimes it’s good to take stock and figure out what went wrong.

But if yesterday’s election in Virginia told us anything, it’s that it’s time for Progressives to ask a new question: Why not?  As in, “Why not run?”

Many women (and men) choose not to run for election because they think they lack the typical qualifications: years in politics, a law degree, a spotless background.  Donald Trump, bless his heart, proved that none of that really mattered.  What mattered was connecting with your base and getting them to show up on election day, the one day that matters most.  In terms of competence, Trump has set the bar so low that many novices now have the confidence to say, “Well, I might not know the elected job yet, but I know I’ll do a better job than him!”

A more likely scenario though is that women who are incredibly smart, capable and qualified have become motivated to get in the game.  They have been affected viscerally by Trump’s sexism, racism, xenophobia and bad policies and no longer feel that they can remain on the sidelines.  They answered the call:  You marched; now run.

Lou Leon Guerrero, left, and Monica Chinchilla, center, were among 41 women from 12 states who participated in a bootcamp on Oct. 21 in Washington, D.C., held by Emerge America to help train them as candidates for 2018 and 2020. Guerrero is running for governor of Guam, while Chinchilla plans to run for the San Francisco Board of Education. Kristian Hernández/Center for Public Integrity

Since January there has been a surge of women signing up to campaign for positions big and small and the new feminist activism has been record breaking.    Last night in Virginia 15 seats flipped from Republican to Democrat, and 11 of those were by women.

The transgender community also asked, “Why not?” and made history.  Danica Roem became the first transgender woman to win a House of Delegates seat in Virginia.  What made that even sweeter was that she defeated Del. Bob Marshall, the Republican incumbent who refers to himself as the state’s, “chief homophobe” and has consistently promoted anti-LGBT legislation, including a bathroom bill.

Trans woman Andrea Jenkins was the first transgender person elected to a major city’s governing body (Minneapolis) and the first trans person of color elected any office in the U.S. Charlotte elected its first female African-American mayor, Sheila Oliver became the first woman of color elected lieutenant governor of New Jersey, Ravi Bhalla became the first Sikh mayor in Hoboken history, and in Georgia’s House of Representative two seats that were so Republican they went uncontested in 2016 just flipped to Dems, because Why not?

Here at home, March On! Texas was following 15 local races across the state and guess what?  Progressives won 10 of them!

It was the kind of progress for women, minorities of all stripes and progressive ideals we hoped and allowed ourselves to dream would happen last year.  Last year that dream was shattered.  Last year we screamed at the sky helplessly, ‘Why!?!’

Today we ask ourselves a better question.  Why not?  The answer is worth shouting for joy.

March on, ya’ll

 

 

Shannon C. Mugrage vs. Deja Hill – Manor City Council Place 5

Shannon C. Mugrage vs. Deja Hill – Manor City Council Place 5

March On! Texas has found 20 progressive candidates in 100 races.  Today we are interviewing two progressives, Shannon C. Mugrage and Deja Hill, who are both running for Manor City Council Place 5.  We asked them the same questions so you could compare and contrast their answers to make your own decision.  The order of interviews was decided by coin toss.

Quick Notes:

Name:  Shannon C. Mugrage

Position:  Manor City Council Place 5

Election Day:  Tuesday, November 7

Shannon C. Mugrage

What prompted you to run for office?

I’ve always wanted to run for public office and now seemed like the best time. It is almost impossible not to get involved at this time if you want to protect what you believe in.

What sets you apart from your opponents?

I am a 7 year US Navy Veteran (E6). I have also lived in this community for almost 8 years. We have watched our area grow from a couple of houses to a finished subdivision. Along the way we have made friends and our kids have known no other home.

What is the main thing you want to accomplish if elected?

I would like to figure out how to balance the budget without raising property taxes every year. I also want to continue the successful relationship between the local government and our Police and Firefighters. We have a unique community in this regard, especially being so close to Austin.

What relevant experience makes you best qualified for this position?

During my time in the Navy, I deployed once and was TAD to the Persian Gulf two other times. This allowed me to interact with people from all over the world, experience different cultures and find out what it meant to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Why do you feel local elections are important for progressives?

They are important for progressives because the local level is where it all starts. We must have a true representation of the neighborhood on boards and councils if we want our voices heard.

What do you want to tell voters in your district?

I don’t claim to know all the problems in Manor and I would love to hear from anyone that has input or questions/concerns about our city. We all have something that we would like to see changed and if we get together to discuss things, we may be surprised to find out that no matter what our differences are we share the same concerns. My family is the most important part of my life and this is our home. Instead of moving to a new neighborhood that is “perfect” we need to improve on what we already have.

Thanks for speaking with us today! 

And here is the other progressive candidate, Deja Hill.

Quick Notes:

Name:  Deja Hill

Position:  Manor City Council Place 5

Election Day:  Tuesday, November 7

 

Deja Hill

 

What prompted you to run for office? 

I am seeking this position because I have a wealth of knowledge living and working in small towns and I understand the patterns of growth and change. I would like the opportunity to advocate for citizens of Manor and help to honor the history, preserve the present and invest in the future of MANOR! 

What sets you apart from your opponents?   

I am currently sitting as a Planning and Zoning Commissioner for the City of Manor, I have experience working with the City Council and have developed a working relationship with the Council and the processes and procedures they currently follow. I sat on the Capital Improvement Plan Advisory Committee which is responsible for reviewing the water and sewer impact fees assessed by the City of Manor for new development. I attend City Council meetings on a regular basis to stay abreast of the topics being discussed. 

What is the main thing you want to accomplish if elected?

The City of Manor City Council has set initiatives and goals for the City of Manor based on a collaboration from Travis County, the Mayor and the City Manager. I would like to bring my level of expertise and experiences to help fulfill the initiatives set for the City of Manor.  

What relevant experience makes you best qualified for this position?

I have educational, working, and personal experience living, working and attending schools in small cities that are near major universities and industries to understand the growth patterns and what concerns are important such as job growth, transportation and public safety. I worked with the City of Nacogdoches Downtown Business Association and Main Street Manager which revitalizes and preserves the downtown areas. I can offer ideas and goals to assist Downtown Manor.  I have volunteer experience as a planning and zoning commissioner for the City of Manor which has given me insight on the development and growth of the city. 

Why do you feel local elections are important for progressives?

I feel that everyone should be an active member of their community, community meaning where you work, live, attend school and participate in recreation. 

Someone quoted “I think being a progressive means you want to make real progress.” Being active in your community in all elections, not just the presidential elections, is having a voice and an opinion for your community. 

What do you want to tell voters in your district?

I would like to tell voters in the City of Manor to vote for Deja Hill for City Council Place 5, I am Committed to Community and Dedicated to Progress! 

 

Thanks both of you for taking the time to speak with us today!

And remember that election day is Tuesday, November 7.  We can’t turn Texas blue unless you get every progressive you know to show up and vote!

Holly Vilaseca – HISD District 6

Holly Vilaseca – HISD District 6

Early voting has started for school board and city council elections across the state.  March On! Texas has found 20 progressive candidates in 100 races.  Today we are interviewing Holly Flynn Vilaseca who is running for the Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Quick Notes:

Name:  Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Position:  HISD District 6

Early Voting: October 23 – November 3

Election Day:  November 7

Holly Vilaseca

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I was appointed to the board in January, when the previous trustee retired, so I’ve been on the job 10 months.  I’m seeking a four-year term.  I grew up in rural Ohio, was the youngest of six in my family and the first to go to college. My father was a Korean War vet, and my mom is from Colombia, and public education has been very important in my own life. I began my career as a teacher for Teach America in 2004, taught for several years, and have since worked for several education-related organizations.

My husband and I have a 22 month old son, named Nicolas.

What prompted you to run for office?

Public service has always been important to me, so when the trustee appointment became available I decided to pursue it. The board is doing very important work right now, and I want to continue the service I began 10 months.  We have a new superintendent who started in October. HISD is the 7th largest school district in the U.S. and the largest in Texas, and we face some challenges. There are structural budget concerns, which have now been exacerbated by the massive damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. We are working to reform curriculum and special education, and to improve a group of chronically under-performing schools. I believe my background and experience have prepared me well to do this important work, and I want to continue to serve.

What sets you apart from your opponents?

Both of my opponents are conservative and male, and while HISD races are non-partisan, I am the only Democrat running. As the daughter of an immigrant and former bilingual teacher, I share a perspective with many of the students and families I serve.  I’m an organizational psychologist and I’ve supported nonprofits and schools.  I have a very unique skillset to understand group dynamics. I am also a District VI homeowner, who has been active in my neighborhood.

What is the main thing you want to accomplish if elected?

I want to make sure governance framework is followed and that we have meaningful discussions around student outcomes.  I also want to continue to implement the community school framework to meet every student’s needs.  Our goal to get this framework implemented by 2022, and it is based on the goal of all our students meeting and exceeding expectations, feeling safe, getting challenging learning experiences, and closing the achievement gap. The board rewrote our mission, simplifying it and making equity one of its cornerstones.

What relevant experience makes you best qualified for this position?

I’ve been in education for the past 13 years. I was a classroom teacher.  I know how to manage a budget.  I have my master’s degree from Columbia in social organizational psychology, which taught me how to work well with different dynamics.  I was also an implementation researcher, so I know how to ask the right data driven questions, and how to ask the hard questions and following up to hold the superintendent accountable while aligning with our mission and vision.

Why do you feel local elections are important for progressives?

Right now local politics and government offer an opportunity to have an immediate impact on our community.  Unfortunately we are facing state and national rhetoric that seeks to divide us. I am the daughter of an immigrant.  We need to build on what united us as a country. And if we want to change the dialogue and focus of state and national politics and government, we need to start locally and build for the future.

What do you want to tell voters in your district?

I’m running for the right reasons, politics aside.

I’ve been on the front lines in Title 1 schools; I’m a mother who wants  all students to have great options and their needs met, not just in the magnet programs, but in all schools.  Good schools impact the quality of life for everyone.  If a kid has to get up at 5 am to take two buses to get to the school that meets his or her needs, I don’t know if that’s the best option for families.

I want to be elected for a full term to continue working on the important issues facing HISD. As a mom, home owner, executive and former teacher who is working hard as the current trustee, I hope I earn that opportunity.

 

Thanks Holly!

For more information you can go to:  Hollyforhisd.com

Jennifer Key and the Keys to Successful Schools

Jennifer Key and the Keys to Successful Schools

Early voting has started for school board and city council elections across the state.  March On! Texas has found 20 progressive candidates in 100 races.  Today we are interviewing Jennifer Key who is running for Alief Independent School Board Position 6.

 

Quick Facts:

Name:  Jennifer Key

Position:  Alief Independent School Board Position 6

Early Voting: October 28 – November 3

Election Day: November 7

Jennifer Key

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’ve lived in the Alief community for 40 years. I taught middle school science for 10 years and was an administrator for 25 years including Assistant Principal in intermediate school and district level director for Special Populations. Special Populations includes at-risk, pregnant, homeless, gifted and ESL students.  I also supervised the nursing department.

I have two children, both went to public school in Alief, which gave them a very successful start.  My daughter is now a professor at Portland State University and my son works for Maersk Oil in Copenhagen, Denmark.  My husband is Vice President of Signet Maritime Corporation.  I retired from the school district last year.

What prompted you to run for office?

I was a volunteer before my kids started school and I love Alief schools and would like to formalize some of the progressive ideas already in place.  For example, we’re open with the LBGT community, but we have no policy in place to protect them.  I want to make sure that as a district we’re taking care of them.

What sets you apart from your opponents?

The man I’m running against is a very nice man from Arizona who has only has been in Alief for about two years and he doesn’t have the experience of Texas education or state finance that I have.

What is the main thing you want to accomplish if elected?

The big things I’d like to do are to make sure that we are innovative and offer lots of choice in programs so that we are competitive with private and charter schools.  As educational issues become more heated with DeVos in Washington and Abbot and Patrick in Austin I want to make sure I’m following legislation that could hurt our students so we that as a board can protect students.

Alief is an 80% reduced lunch district and there are 80-100 different languages spoken in the district.   Speaking two languages is so good for your brain, let’s make that an academic focus and use that asset for building community.  We need to make sure all populations are protected, with the same access to programs without any discrimination.

Education as a whole is dominated by females, but males occupy the highest paying positions.  I want females to get the same opportunities as males.  We need more transparency in hiring practices, so that the description for the job is written first and then the best candidate is chosen rather than vice versa where it is decided who they want to hire and the job description is written with the pre-chosen candidate in mind. Let’s get rid of that old boys network.

I want to make sure kids get what they need.  Homeless children need to have safety needs met before they can be successful in an academic setting and English language learners who may not have official documents and families are fearful of institutions because they’re afraid of getting deported.  Employees with DACA status are afraid too.  These aren’t the “bad hombres” Trump was talking about; these are good people in the community who make a significant contribution to our community.

I want to make sure testing is not the only way we determine how successful a student is.  I want to make sure we have the best superintendent and to ensure that his or her foremost goal is taking care of kids.

What relevant experience makes you best qualified for this position?

I have my master’s degree as well as principal certification.  As part of that certification I had to study educational law, how district money is generated and how to manage properly the finances of the school district.  I spent 10 years in the classroom, 15 years in administration, am a parent and raised my kids here.  I have good insight about what’s important and what we need to do to keep Alief strong.

Why do you feel local elections are important for progressives?

This is a grassroots movement.   Once local progressives get in place then those folks gain experience to move them into the next level of government.  We can develop closer ties to the community and become a larger voice, and it just blossoms.  At the local level they actually see what people want.  One of the words I hate the most is “libtard”.  If you know progressives then you don’t fear them.  It’s hard to hate someone you know, and if you can get them in at the local level then the general population won’t fear who progressives are and what they want.  I really don’t have political aspirations beyond AISD but I want to the be the progressive voice at the local level.

What do you want to tell voters in your district?

I care about the education their children are having.  Alief has a reputation of being a rough part of town , but I want them to think, ‘Hey this is a great place to live, work, and play.’  My kids got a great education here in Alief And their kids can too.

For residents who don’t have children in the schools, I want them to know that school board elections matter.  Great schools increase the value of the community and brings in great people.  I want our community and schools to have the reputation it had 40 years ago.

Any final thoughts?

I’m grateful to have received an endorsement from TSTA, which is the Texas State Teachers Association.

 

Connie Esparaza -Hurricane Harvey Won’t Stop this Woman

Connie Esparaza -Hurricane Harvey Won’t Stop this Woman

Early voting has started for school board and city council elections across the state.  March On! Texas has found 20 progressive candidates in 100 races.  Today we are interviewing Conception (Connie) Esparza who is running for Aldine School Board position 4.  The below interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Quick Notes:

Name:  Conception (Connie) Esparza

Position:  Aldine School Board Position 4

Early Voting: October 23 – November 3

Election Day:  November 7

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I had a career before at Gulf Oil Corporation (now Chevron), and also had a catering company.  I’m a retired educator from Houston Community College Northeast.  I worked there for 26 years.  I taught ESL and GED classes at Harris County Department of Education after obtaining my college degree.  Education turned my whole life around.

I started as an executive assistant to the President of Houston Community College Northeast.  I was a non-traditional student who got her degree later on.  I was always in leadership roles and looking for challenges and then I decided to get my degree and graduated magna cum laude.  I have a business management degree from Our Lady of the Lake University, multiple leadership certifications and was president of several boards.

I’m currently retired as an educator.  Fortunately I was appointed to my current position on the Aldine School Board based on an interview out of 11 candidates and now I’m facing my first election.

I have one daughter, Andrea Torres; she was a graduate and a product of the Aldine school district.  I have a supportive significant other as well, Alex Rios.

What prompted you to run for office? 

That was a contingency when I was appointed for Position 4 in February this year.  It was a gruesome process to select someone, so they wanted to make sure I was willing to do that (run for election).  That makes sense.  Once I served it was really a great opportunity.  It really gave me the desire to continue.

When Hurricane Harvey flooded by home by 10 inches of water and destroyed my cars, I had to make a soul searching decision.  This would have been a good time to bail out, but instead I decided to “stick it out” because I have a passion for helping students.

I previously had a one-on-one relationships with students, this school board role was a way to take it a step further, to be able to make decisions to help many students.

You know, for the students Hurricane Harvey has been detrimental.  We were fortunate, we started school on time and only one campus was closed. We faired very well, but the students in the devastated areas were displaced, even staff members.  Some students are still living with aunts, uncles, friends; all our students haven’t returned yet.

We had a uniform drive to help with the financial burden for our students, but life still isn’t back to normal.  It’s very difficult to have a comfortable learning environment when they’re not living in familiar surroundings.

Two students from different school districts were staying at my friend’s house.  Most people don’t know that any student who is considered homeless can register at the zone in where they’re staying, so I was able to get them enrolled in Aldine so they could continue their education; in fact one student doesn’t want to go back now because she likes AISD so much!

What sets you apart from your opponents?

I think for me maturity and experience.  It is a blessing to be supported by so many people.  I’ve lived in AISD since 1969 and early on I participated and volunteered to get bond approval to build all the 9th grade centers.  After work I’d go to the different high schools and speak in Spanish so people would understand and vote in favor of the bond.  I firmly believe the turning point for most students is the 9th grade.  It’s a crucial time and it was important to separate those 9th graders from the rest of high schoolers to give them that extra help.  So I’ve been engaged since the beginning.

I worked for the former sheriff with a program called DARE to prevent drugs.  I volunteered to help him. So I know how to get things done and know who to go to for support.  I have the time to dedicate myself to what I need to do.

What is the main thing you want to accomplish if elected?

The superintendent and deputy superintendent announced retirement, so I’d like to help to find their replacements.  I think it would be a big accomplishment to find the right people.

Right now we are concerned with budget and enrollment.  Enrollment has suffered due to lower birth rate, even more so due to Harvey displacing students.  And to continue to work with the budget that‘s my major, I have a business degree.

Student achievement is something all districts try to improve.  You can never have it too high.  Whether the student is young or an adult getting their GED, you want them to succeed.    Supporting the teachers is always a goal that any administrator needs to have. You want to encourage them to do the best job they can.

Basically it’s those things because tax payers need to be reassured that all resources are invested cautiously.

What relevant experience makes you best qualified for this position?

I have not had a firm belief that my 26 years at HCC made me ready.  It exposed me to so many levels of education, recruitment and budget. I ran a dual-credit program with 14 HISD High Schools and 3 privates under me.  For the last 8 years there I was the program manager for those schools by myself with just one counselor to help.  Running a program, budgeting and all that experience led me to be chosen over the other candidates for school board.  I’ve never failed because I was prepared and I knew what the boards were talking about.  It’s like all these years prior to becoming a board trustee I’ve been learning and now it’s time to apply it.  I’m really very fortunate to fit the bill of what’s needed.

Why do you feel local elections are important for progressives? 

It depends where your interests lie.  Local elections allow the opportunity to give you a scope.  It helps you get down to the basics and continue your interests in seeking other positions.  It provides tremendous opportunity to see what’s going on at the community level.  You engage with business, you meet so many different people that can prepare you for a higher position if you choose too.  For me personally though, the school board is where I want to be.

What do you want to tell voters in your district?

Vote for me, of course! I’m a person of high ethics, I work well with a board, given the short tenure I’ve had with this one I get along well with everyone.  I would like voters to look at what I have to offer, what I’ve been able to do along with others, because it’s not a one person show, it’s a collaborative effort.

My travels have proven that one’s life can go around in one big circle.  I have a very vivid memory to the day, many years ago, that my former husband, now deceased, was being interviewed at home for a position on the Aldine ISD Board.  I recollect sitting in the adjacent room and wishing to be the one to be interviewed.  Since that time, I have obtained a college degree, became an instructor and retired aft a 26 year career in higher education.  I know now that I was becoming groomed for what was yet to come in the circle of life because now I am the one running in a local election for a position on the AISD school board.

Thanks so much for the interview Connie!

If you’d like to find out more about her, click here:  https://www.facebook.com/Connie4AldineISD/  and http://www.aldineisd.org/

And remember…

  • Early Voting is October 23 – November 3
  • Election Day November 7

VOTE!

100 Races; 20 Progressives

100 Races; 20 Progressives

Hey Marchers,

Did you know that there are local elections for City Council and School Boards in 100 towns?  Not sure who to vote for?  Don’t worry, March On! Texas has you covered.  We reviewed over 100 races in an effort to provide as comprehensive a list as possible of progressive candidates for the November 2017 local elections.  If a local race is not included that DOES NOT mean there is not a progressive candidate; these are the only candidates we felt comfortable in sharing as progressive.  If you know a progressive who is running, please let us know!

First, let’s talk key dates:

  • Early Voting – October 23 – November 3

  • Election Day – November 7

Now, here’s a list by city of the 20 progressive candidates who are running.  In some cases, there are multiple progressives running for the same spot, so we recommend you do some research on your own to make the best choice for you.

District District Candidates
Aldine ISD Position 4 Conceptia “Connie” Esparza (I)
Alief ISD Position 6 Jennifer Key
College Station ISD District 6 Jacquelyn Martin Huff
Houston Community College System Trustee District IV Carolyn-Evans Shabazz
Houston Community College System Trustee District V Robert Glaser (I)
Houston Community College System Trustee District VI Pretta VanDible Stallworth
Houston ISD District One Gretchen Himsl
Houston ISD District One Monica Richart
Houston ISD District One Elizabeth Santos
Note: All three of these candidates are D’s. Elizabeth Santos has received far more endorsements from progressive organizations.
Houston ISD District 5 Kara DeRocha
Houston ISD District 5 Sue Deigaard
Note: Of the candidates in this race, both DeRocha and Deigaard are seen as progressive candidates. We hope you will review their views carefully and determine which most aligns with your personal views
Houston ISD District 6 Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca (I)
Houston ISD District 7 Anne Sung (I)
New Caney ISD Position 1 Yavonne Martinez
Pflugerville City Council Place 2 Adeline Bui
Pflugerville City Council Place 6 Jim McDonald
Sherman Council District 2 Commie Linson
Weston Lakes City Council Alderman Yvonne Wade Sanchez
Sylvia Holmes Marched – Now She’s Running

Sylvia Holmes Marched – Now She’s Running

The 2018 midterm elections are upon us and women are running for office in record numbers.  One such woman, Sylvia Holmes, went from helping to plan the Women’s March in Austin, the largest march in Texas history, to deciding to run for office herself.

The Women’s March in Austin. Photo By Mike Holp Photography

The other week we sat down to discuss why she wants to be elected to the people’s court, the merits of a UT vs. Texas A&M game and sitting on a bale of hay.

Here are my questions and her answers, slightly edited for clarity.

Tell me something about yourself

I’m a lifelong Texan who’s lived in Austin for over 20 years.  I’m a “Bridger,” born in 1981, so I’m a Millennial, but I also remember using a rotary phone.  I was born in Houston, but I grew up in Anderson County, a rural community.  I lived there with my family between kindergarten and 6th grade.

I was a Daddy’s girl.  We had 50 acres for cattle and crops like corn and watermelons which we sold at the Farmer’s market.  I loved it.  We plowed that field all on our own, dug posts and drove tractors.  My favorite picture from that time is of me sitting on a hay roll with a big smile after helping my dad with the harvesting.

Sylvia Holmes at her farm

Most people would consider my family as being poor because we lived in a mobile home, but we were better off than many others.  My dad was one of only a few in the town who went to college and worked a office job with benefits.

Once, Governor Ann Richards came and spoke at my school in Slocum.  It was a huge deal and I got to see her up close (think 1-2 feet away).  It absolutely shaped my perception of what women could do because I had just turned 9 and no one told me it was odd to have a female governor.​

We moved to Austin when I was in the 6th grade.  Have you heard of the Yogurt Shop Murders in 1990s off Anderson Lane?  It was really bad.  At a yogurt store in Austin four young girls were murdered and the mystery was never solved.  That case shook the state and laws about child labor were passed after that so teenagers wouldn’t be left alone to close a business.  My father became a child labor investigator and we moved to Austin.  I went from elementary-middle-high school population of 300 to just a seventh grade class with over 200 students.  It was a huge change.

Sylvia with her grandfather in Brazoria, Texas

How was that?

At first, I was teased for being an overweight redneck.  I had an East Texas accent and said words funny.  I also had to stop saying “going to town” to mean “going to the grocery store”.  It was an adjustment.  In Austin we had sidewalks and doorbells; you don’t need doorbells in the country.  In the country, if someone’s walking up your driveway it’s because they know you.

However, I’ve been a city girl ever since arriving in Austin and love my city.

What’s your proudest accomplishment from ages 7-14?  Why are you proud of this?

Successfully moving to Austin in 7th grade and then in 8th grade in Round Rock.  Twice I was thrust into new schools and excelled at both.  It was great coming to Austin and meeting kids from other backgrounds and cultures.

What position are you running for?

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3.

What political experience do you have?  Formal or otherwise

I’m Associate Director of Legal Services for Students at UT.  My office represents all enrolled students in civil small claims and criminal misdemeanors, so I’m at the Justice of the Peace and County Court every day.  This office is covered by a tiny part of their tuition (about $5 a year) and was started in the 1960’s by student government to help out the students.  We are like a general practice law firm in a town of 50,000 people.  We advocate locally, statewide and nationally for all of our students.

I’m new to running for politics (and proud of it!) but experienced at justice.  My job involves solving problems for people on both sides in a fair way.

I’ve had a lot of clients who really embraced me, beyond ‘you’re just a lawyer.’  I’ve changed their opinion because they’ve felt their voice was truly being heard, not just listened to, but heard.

Sylvia Holmes at work

What does a Justice of the Peace do?

You’re the judge in the people’s court.  In Texas that means you’re in court for a criminal ticket, but it’s a minor enough offense that you can’t be sent to jail.  This includes traffic tickets, underage drinking, park issues, littering, trespassing (like sneaking into parks after hours), curfew violations (students leaving school during lunch), dog bites, marriages, car accidents and home repair disputes to name a few.

You don’t need a lawyer to file a lawsuit or to defend yourself in a people’s court but people often don’t want to go or ask for help for fear of cost, retribution, or for fear of looking foolish.

As a judge, I don’t want those fears to be barriers.   I’ve been the poor kid from rural America.  I’ve been poor, I’ve been rural, I’ve been fat, I’ve been fit, I’m still the same person, so I know what it’s like to feel insecure.  Everyone should have a little empathy, especially a judge.

The way I see it is ‘You’ve made a mistake, so let’s make this a learning moment’.  Let’s make this useful and not just the judge yelling at you.  I’d like to ease the anxiety because everyone needs to feel confident that justice will be served even if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

Why do you want to be a Justice of the Peace?

I want to help people.  Use my experience and knowledge of the law to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equitability and leaves feeling respected by the situation.  If you broke the law you’ll have to pay a fine or pay the consequences but there’s a way to make it a rehabilitative moment.  I want to help restore faith in government.  Our courts are truly the people’s court and we need to ensure that it’s fair.   Minorities, people who aren’t wealthy, and people who are undocumented, should feel respected from start to finish because the court is there to serve the community.

What makes a good judge?

Someone who has a wide variety of experiences who can empathize with variety of situations, who is flexible.  A judge need to be friendly, because you deal with marriages, contracts below $10,000 and traffic tickets.  Unless you get jury duty, arrested or have to visit divorce court, you’re not going to see most courts. Since this is likely to be the only experience in court that you’ll ever have, the judge must represent the judicial branch well.  

What are the biggest issues your constituents are facing?

Lack of knowledge about Texas laws and consumer protection.  Texas is a “buyer beware” and owner-friendly state.  It’s completely on you to do your research.  As a renter you have fewer rights and greater responsibility because you’re borrowing someone’s house for a period of time.

I’m a landlord, so I’ve seen both sides.  I’ve seen both sides.  As a judge it comes down to the facts of the case and the lease.  Young adults getting ready to graduate would benefit if the court did preventative education at the schools, or even just posting basic information on the court’s website.

Another issue is older adults entering a new phase and not being prepared.  I want to get information out there to start talking to senior centers about getting ready for retirement.  Lots of people are going to senior or assisted living houses or renting out their spaces as Air BNB.  I want to ask them, ‘Do you know your rights and responsibilities?’ and then guide them to accurate information.

The last issue is affordability.  Some judges give the harshest fines no matter the circumstance.  I don’t feel like a senior citizen on fixed Social Security income should have to pay the highest fine because they forgot to hang the handicapped placard on their rearview mirror one time.  Justice should be to serve a purpose, not simply to serve a punishment.

If you are elected, how will you help your constituents?

I don’t believe in rubber stamping things, like payday loans and car title loans.  If you’re here for a breach of contract, you have to bring that contract.  I won’t just rule and give you a win by default.  Does it take some time?  Sure.  But that’s how it should be done.

We could have a heck of an impact.  One thing that’s specific to a JP court is that you get issue awareness.  We notice trends –fraud, and scams become trends.  A JP can report that trend to city council and if it’s happening in the nicest part of Texas, what’s happening in the rest of Texas?  As a judge, I can’t make the law, but I can point out potential risks to the city council so they can.

I want to establish a night court, at least once a month.  People don’t all work 9-5 jobs.  It’s hard for people to get off work to get to court at 2pm.  Other counties have night court, why not in our district?

I’d also love to establish community outreach programs to educate everyone about the justice system.  Let’s bring students and parents out to see a trial.  Let people see how our justice system works; too much is hidden right now.

What is the biggest impact you want to make?  You’re biggest goal

This has nothing to do with my job as a JP, but I’d love to reinstate the UT vs. Texas A&M game.  They could even do a spectator game.  Thanksgiving just hasn’t been the same.

As a person who has decided to run for office for the first time, what advice you have for other people interested in running in the future?

Get started as early as possible.

What’s the time commitment to run?

It consumes every waking hour.  Short of my 40 hour job, this is my second full-time job.  It starts at 7:30 a.m. and cuts off at 9 p.m.  I have to make voice mail calls all day long.  Every day twice per week I call other successful candidates for advice, I call people who’ve donated to other judges, and cold fundraising calls to strangers.  It’s hard for me to ask for money, and it amazes me how many people I’ve met on the campaign trail who have given me $25 – $50 after one meeting.  I am grateful for their support and aim to make them proud of their candidate.

Beyond that I’m contacting union leaders, community chairs, HOAs, updating myself on news and going to marches.

Sylvia at rally against white supremacy

What made you decide to run?

I like helping people.  I’m good at turning difficult legalese to understandable sentences.  There are different types of judges.  I’m friendly and flexible but follow the rules.  The law needs to be applied based upon the specific facts of the case so we cure the current problem, and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Sometimes you need to understand that a senior who forgot to hang her handicap placard shouldn’t have to pay the full fine if she’s living on social security.  You need to use your judgement and not throw that book at everyone just to collect fines.

Where can people reach you?

http://www.sylviaforjp3.com

Thanks Sylvia for speaking with March On! Texas!  We will be following her as she campaigns for the 2018 midterms.

Hurricane Resource Guide

Hurricane Resource Guide

Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, the Gulf Coast cities and the rural areas between them.  We know that many of you are going through tough times.

There’s a lot of information out there, so we hope that this resource guide helps.  It’s broken into sections with links to websites, apps and articles that may be useful.

Travel

Which roads are closedHouston Traffic TrackerPort Aransas, Beaumont    

Where do I find GasGas Buddy

Are the airports openHouston AirportHouston Hobby Airport, Corpus Christie Airport,  Dallas/Ft. Worth International, Dallas Love Field, Austin-Bergstrom, and San Antonio International all up and running.

Links to Airline Traveler Waiver info: United, Southwest, American, Jet Blue,  Alaska Air, Frontier

My Home Is Flooded.  Now What?

File a claim with FEMA:  Hurricane Harvey/FEMA

Tips for Harvey Survivors, From Those Who Lived Through Sandy https://nyti.ms/2gqRoV8

Info for flood clean up:  What to do after a flood

How Can I Help?

There are lots of churches and charities helping with donations.  Here are just a few.

Red Cross – Hurricane Harvey

Local to Austin – Make Welcome Kits

Donate new underwear:  Undies For Everyone

Pets:  SPCA of Texas

If you lived through Harvey, we are so happy that you are safe now and will continue to post updates.

Hang in there.

That Time I Rallied Against Nazis

That Time I Rallied Against Nazis

In the wake of the horrific protests of Charlottesville and the implied encouragement of white supremacists by President Trump in his impromptu press event on Tuesday, activists across every spectrum have been hitting the pavement, holding signs and letting their voices be heard.

Today at Austin City Hall there was the Rally Against White Supremacy.  It was non-violent and speakers with diverse backgrounds discussed ways to take action to promote greater equality in our country.

Rally Against White Supremacy

Activists from the Black, Latino, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Transgender and White communities spoke, as well as Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Mayor Steve Adler, which we live streamed on our Facebook page.

One speaker from Black Lives Matter challenged everyone at the rally to not feel good about just showing up and holding a sign, but to really promote change by seeking more budget money in marginalized communities and holding elected officials accountable or work hard to replace them with better ones.

Several speakers reminded everyone to be active bystanders; if you see someone bullying a minority speak up!

March On! Texas members Simone Laurent, Lisa Traugott and Sylvia Holmes

“Isms” (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) has always been with us, but under the leadership of President Trump the fringe hate groups feel like they have a friend in the White House and that it is suddenly now okay to try to turn on our neighbors.  It’s not.

One rally isn’t going to change the world, but it’s a step in the right direction.  At March On! Texas we encourage everyone to become everyday activists.

Tolerance can and should be taught to our youngest citizens at local schools.  Did you know that 12 districts are having local school board elections in November?  Here are some reasons why that’s important and why everyone should vote:  School Board Elections

To find out other progressive events around the state, checkout our website www.MarchOnTexas.com.

Do you want to get involved, volunteer and help progressives win local elections where they can have the biggest impact?  Learn more here.

Every day try to do something that makes the world a better place.

March on, y’all!

 

The Importance of Schools and Tolerance

The Importance of Schools and Tolerance

This week (every week?) has been filled with distractions from the Executive branch.  I heard a comedian once liken Donald Trump to a monkey in a theatre flinging feces at the audience so no one would pay attention to the actual play going on.

His divisive remarks about Charlottesville, saying that somehow the “alt-left” was partly to blame for Neo-Nazis and the KKK causing chaos leaving three people dead, is dangerous but unsurprising from him.  We all knew what he really thought about diversity.

Once again, we must look to ourselves for leadership.  One of the most eye-popping articles I read was about a father repudiating his 30 year-old son in his local newspaper for joining the alt-right/white supremacists rally:  He didn’t learn this at home.

Another article that connected with me was an interview with the former high school teacher of James Alex Fields Jr., the man who used his car to strike counter protesters killing one and injuring 19.  The teacher said that Fields was bright but misguided and handed in a paper basically glorifying Nazi views.  The teacher felt like he failed because he wasn’t able to counter this young man’s skewed views.

Sierra PTO

These two articles resonated with me because it brings back the importance of making sure our students are educated with facts and not revisionist history distorted from the dark corners of the alt-right internet.  The information that young men and women fill their brain with matters.

While no one has control over the world wide web, we do have a say in the text books they read. That’s why there was such an uproar in 2015 when the Texas Board of Education approved textbooks that said Moses was a Founding Father and slaves were “workers” from Africa.  Now, more then ever, it is important that we teach tolerance and truth from a very young age.

After this weekend’s events many were left asking, “How can I get involved?  What can I do?”  Let’s think local.

There are 12 school districts that have seats open on their school boards.  These districts include: Houston, Klein, Leander, Los Fresnos, New Caney, Schertz-Cibolo, Spring, College Station, Aldine, Alief, Bryan and Cypress-Fairbanks.

Wouldn’t it be great if these school boards had some progressive candidates elected to them?  The deadline to file candidacy is Monday, August 21.

Know someone that lives in a district that would be great candidate? Share this post with them or tag them in it!

We must do what we can at the local level to ensure that tolerance is taught to the greatest assets we have, our children.

March on y’all

P.S. – If you do know a progressive running, please email lisa@marchontexas.com.  We’d love to hear and help!