By: Jackie Hardy, NDG Contributing Writer
In October the Irving Independent School District (IISD) Board of Trustees agreed to accept proposals to change the current election process in how voters choose their Board of Trustees. Meanwhile, the district faces on-going public pressure from leaders and Hispanic community activists.
“The landscape in Irving has changed and a responsible government who places the needs of those they serve above their own will change with it to the end that it reflects the needs of all the people under its care,” a written response from Pastor Norris McGill of Antioch Christian Church.
Irving leaders of faith like Father Pedro Portillo of the Santa Maria de Guadalupe church and other community leaders will continue to collect information and consult with experts. They are also seeking input from demographers to create a single-member district map. The ultimate goal is to present the map to the IISD Board of Trustees for their approval.
“For the last 16 years a group of people in Irving have been trying to implement a change. They (Board of Trustees) want to see what ideas the public can bring for the single-member district so we are trying to get ideas from people who have been working with maps or with some type of experience with maps to determine the best way to do the maps,” said Father Portillo in a phone interview.
According to both Father Portillo and Carlos Quintanilla, community activist and founder of accionamerica.com, they are bringing in individuals like Bill Betzen. He has experience developing maps in other cities. The City of Irving’s current maps is being reviewed to ensure the proposed maps comply with requirements outlined by the IISD Board of Trustees.
Quintanilla indicated plans to submit their proposed single-member district map to the Board by the end of November. Quintanilla is particularly optimistic the Board will agree to the proposed changes to the existing voting maps.
“There has already been a precedence that has been established in the city of Irving in the Manuel Benavidez case versus the city of Irving. In that case, the Judge looked at the voting age population and population forecast. The judge said let’s wait and see the 2010 Census data. If the 2010 Census numbers show an increase of the Hispanic numbers, than revisit the case. This left the door open for Benavidez to re-establish his lawsuit. Rather than getting into a lawsuit with the Irving Independent School District, spending taxpayer money, and diverting part of that money that should be used for students and the school system makes me optimistic that they will do the right thing,” said Quintanilla.
The 2009 case brought against IISD by plaintiff Manuel Benavidez claimed the current at-large voting system violated Section II of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The District prevailed in court, but the legal fees were $247,058.22 paid to the Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP firm. In the Memorandum of Opinion, the presiding U.S. District Judge, Honorable Sidney Fitzwater ruled the plaintiff did not prove the minority group in the school district is “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single member district.”
The fight to change the current voting system within Irving ISD is not a new topic. The Irving Chapter of the NAACP has also fought for this change. It is the goal of Tony Grimes, President of Irving NAACP, that the proposed change for single-member districts led by the Hispanic community will be inclusive of all minorities. Currently, the NAACP has remained neutral on this topic. They want to ensure the newly proposed single-member district maps will be in the best interest for all minorities within Irving.
“We will make sure we are involved when they bring their suggested proposal to the Board and that we are available to communicate our satisfaction or dissatisfaction. My thought is that they will be inclusive of all minorities,” said Grimes in a phone interview.
“We want to present a plan that is fair and equitable for everyone. When we talk about single-member district it is not only Hispanics benefiting from single-member districts, but everyone benefits because if you live in South Irving, you (candidate) are going to represent the interest of South Irving. If you live in Las Colinas or North Irving you are going to have a representative that is going to represent the interest of your district,” comments Quintanilla.
Quintanilla also expressed they are encouraging multiple maps from other interested parties to submit their own proposals to the Board. He welcomes anyone who wants to help them develop a new single-district map.
One of the main arguments made against single-member voting districts is the voter turn-out among minorities of Irving is often-times historically low; therefore, changing to a single-member district will not guarantee minority representation. Many Irving community activist and leaders especially those within the African American community believe that played an enormous factor in why former Irving ISD Board of Trustees Nancy Jones, formerly of Place 1 and AD Jenkins, formerly of Place 2 loss their seats in the recent Place 1 and 2 elections.
“If we had support of the folks last time they would still be there; we did not get folks out to vote for whatever reason,” added Grimes.
Grimes acknowledged if there is no representation of African Americans on the school board it is not necessarily due to the voting system. African American turnout at the polls is also a contributing factor.
The Dallas Morning News in June cited a Pew Hispanic Center expert estimates 43 percent of Hispanic Texans are eligible to vote. This is compared to 77 percent of Caucasian voters. The article also stated it is a challenge to get the younger citizens to vote and the Hispanic voting population typically is younger. The leaders within the Irving Hispanic community are confident the 2010 Census data will show an increase in the Citizens Voting Age Population (CVAP) within Irving and those Hispanics who are within the CVAP will vote in significant numbers.
Quintanilla explained, “We saw an increase in the last election more than 1,700 Latinos voted and that is an increase. The people who were out working on Election Day will agree it was the first time they saw a large number of Latinos coming out to vote on Election Day. I think that is good and as time goes on Hispanics are not just going to vote for Hispanics. They are going to vote for the most qualified, the person that makes the most sense to them. The person who is going to look out for them; and for that person who will basically convince them they should vote for them.”
Quintanilla also pointed out that the Hispanic community are law-abiding taxpayers who want to be a dynamic and vibrant part of Irving. They also desire a quality education for their children. Therefore, their community should have political representation like everyone else.
“What we are doing is opening up the process, there’s no guarantee a Hispanic will win but it will level the playing field,” added Quintanilla.
For more information on issues affecting the Hispanic community visit www.accionamerica.com, or call 214-524-1011.
Editor’s note: The correct name of the attorney assisting with the maps is not Bill Benson, it is Bill Betzen.