Carlos Vasquez, Fort Worth school board member since 2008, has thrown his hat into another political ring: challenging state representative Lon Burnam in the Democratic primary for the District 90 seat Burnam has held for the past 15 years. It’s an ambitious move. Burnam has had no primary opposition since his first term in office. He has had little opposition in the general election. The liberal Democrat’s support in his district and among his fellow party members has always been strong, but this year four key Hispanic Democrats are jumping ship for Vasquez – fellow board member Juan Rangel, Fort Worth city councilman Sal Espino, Tarrant County constable Sergio de Leon, and long-time political activist and former city council member Lou Zapata. Plus, Vasquez said, Jim Lane, another long-time party activist who also served on the council and who ran unsuccessfully this year for mayor of Fort Worth, will be his campaign treasurer. All have been Burnam supporters in the past. And, Burnam has reciprocated, pointing out that he paid for Rangel’s victory party when he won his first race for the school board. And while he backed Cathy Hirt for mayor initially, he threw his support to Lane in the run-off between Lane and the winner Betsy Price. “I not only publicly supported Jim,” he said, “I made hundreds of phone calls to get out the vote for him.”
The race may get nasty for reasons that have little to do with Burnam, however, and more to do with board politics. Vasquez – known for his outspoken criticisms of board policies and the management style of former superintendent Melody Johnson – has been asked to resign from his position on the board by two members. President Ray Dickerson publicly called on Vasquez to step down after he announced and one long-term member with a substantial political war chest (whom Vasquez declined to name) offered to give him money for his campaign “on the condition I would resign,” Vasquez said.
“I considered it a bribe,” he said.
“I have no intention of resigning,” he added, pointing out that former board member Chris Hatch ran for the state legislature in 2007 and no one on the board called for his resignation. (Hatch lost the state rep race and was later defeated for his board seat in 2010 by Ann Sutherland who is also supporting Vasquez.) Vasquez, with 15 years as an educator in the public schools and who is now an adjunct professor in the graduate school of education at Texas Wesleyan University, said that education issues will be his priority. And he was quick to point out that the race is not about race, even though the district is overwhelmingly Hispanic and in recent years political leaders have been grumbling that the post should be held by a Latino.
Burnam is taking the challenge seriously, but is “very disappointed,” he said that Vasquez decided to run against him on “issues that are not real.” Vasquez has accused Burnam of “failing to fight hard enough for education funding” at the state level, an accusation that sets Burnam’s hair on fire.
“I have done more for education since I’ve been in office than anyone,” he said, citing his fight during a particularly grueling session two and a half years ago in which Burnam said he “singlehandedly killed an education bill” that would have opened the doors to a voucher system that would have taken even more money away from public schools.
“I am a senior leader of the Democratic minority in the House and I have vigorously fought against the cuts in education spending,” he said. Democrats in the House and Senate, including Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, have unsuccessfully fought against the draconian cuts in education that Republicans have pushed through with the support of Governor Rick Perry. However, Burnam and the other Dems fight an uphill battle every session as their numbers dwindle.
Is it fair to suggest that Burnam isn’t doing enough when the votes are not there? Can Vasquez do better simply by changing the name of the Democrat from District 90? Time will tell. The primary is in March, still a long way to go. Stay tuned.