Thursday, March 23, 2017

First Impression of the Candidates

The Richardson Republican Women held a candidate forum Tuesday evening at JJ Pearce High School for both city council (CoR) and school board (RISD) elections. Eight candidates are new to CoR and RISD. Three newcomers are running for city council, five for school board.

In my judgment, all of the candidates in contested races, incumbents and challengers alike, would be positive forces for the community. They all appeared to be driven by a desire to serve. I didn't detect any ideology-driven agendas. The Richardson community (city and school district) should appreciate how unusual and valuable that is in today's political climate.

That are my initial impressions of the new candidates. Incumbents we should already know.

Richardson City Council

Cory Montfort: She didn't attend, due to a scheduling conflict. A representative made opening and closing statements. He was forgettable, shedding little light on Montfort that I can remember. On Facebook, Montfort said she wasn't informed of the forum until four days beforehand. If true, bad on the Richardson Republican Women.

Kashif Riaz: He appears to be an out-of-the-box candidate. He advocated some positions without appearing to have thought much about them. Every other candidate is opposed to single member districts, with Mayor Voelker "passionately opposed" because it leads to a "barter system" of government. Riaz is "all for" single member districts, but why? Riaz says the city should get input from the school district before approving new apartments, as if considering impact on schools to be a new idea. He wants to build indoor swimming pools (plural), which is the only new spending proposal I remember hearing all night. To a question about the city employee pension fund liability, he said something about raising revenues by using traffic to generate electricity. Out-of-the-box thinking for sure.

Jared Weadon: He appeared to be unprepared compared to the man sitting next to him, Mayor Paul Voelker. To the question on pension liability, he begged off saying he's not a pension expert, but that didn't keep him from somehow knowing "we are doing what we need to do." He is in favor of the state legislative bill lowering property tax caps. Every other candidate is in favor of local control. (Riaz, the out-of-the-box candidate, appeared to advocate for both: property tax caps imposed under local control.) Weadon is against new apartments because he says we don't have space for schools. How we have space for apartments but not schools is a detail Weadon didn't address. Weadon's most important issue is transparency. I think he explained why it's important, but I can't remember what he said he'd do about it. In closing, Weadon encouraged city residents to do service projects. His heart is in the right place.

Richardson ISD Board of Trustees

Lynn Davenport: She says she's an advocate for academic excellence, teacher retention, fiscal control, and local control (no vouchers, less focus on STAAR). In her own words, cheerleader and critic. A nuanced candidate. She best seemed to understand the pros and cons behind single-member districts. She understood that workload issues are as important as pay in regards to teacher retention. She understood that technology in schools brings benefits and distractions. Like I said, nuanced. That's good.

Eric Eager: Public spirited. He's running on his professional skills as an executive at a software company. Teacher retention is his top issue, with a need to free up teachers' time using technology. He sees putting "feet on the street" as a means to improving communications. He sees increasing partnerships with local businesses as a way of enhancing services without raising taxes. Most of this I got from my notes, not from my memory. Eager didn't make any lasting impression.

Ben Prado: Young, self-confident, inexperienced. Twice when talking about school funding, Prado brought up President Trump's proposed budget cuts to education. My reaction was, first, state government is the primary source of the school funding problem in Texas, not federal government. Prado knows this, but he talked about Trump anyway. Second, mentioning Trump in a negative way at a Republican Women's forum can't be a good way to win votes. All the other candidates tried to move on from the White Rock Elementary overcrowding issue, but Prado suggested that it hasn't been decided yet, that the decision to expand WRE can still be changed, not that he said he'd advocate for that. Prado said he could entertain the possibility of having single-member districts to foster balanced representation across the district. Every other candidate said they opposed education savings accounts or vouchers. Prado said he's not for or against vouchers, "we should probably try them out." Using not being for or against something as a reason for trying it out is how people get tattoos while drunk. I don't think it's how voters want us to decide on vouchers.

Karen Clardy: On paper, Clardy should be a shoe-in. Twenty five years with the district as an executive assistant at LHHS. Well known. Universally liked. So why was my initial impression lacking? Maybe because she saw everything narrowly, like how I'd expect a school support staff member to see it. She complained about teacher professional development time for how it inconveniences the operation of schools. She talked about central administration as the "district ivory tower." To a question about school funding, she said she sees waste at the school level. I came away thinking she was probably an outstanding executive assistant who may not be ready to jump to top management.

Joseph Armstrong: Youth minister turned construction company president. That's a transition I'd like to hear more about. On the need for more communication to improve transparency, he said he attended a school board meeting and counted only seventeen people in the audience. OK. So what? What would you do? As for school funding, he said we need to look to ourselves, as if tightening our belts is all he can offer. Teacher retention is his top issue, with unburdening teachers so they can concentrate on teaching his top suggestion. In closing, he told a story about why the small compass on his campaign sign is askew. He said if he can be that intentional about his yard signs, you can trust he'd be that intentional about serving the RISD. Or maybe, I thought, misguided about what's really important.

Don't mistake my first impressions for final judgment. It's easy to sit in the audience and critique people who may not be professional public speakers. So don't take these impressions as endorsements or rejections. After all, they are only impressions of the new candidates, not the incumbents. I would still take any of these candidates in a heartbeat over some of the vocal commentators who know all the answers on social media. But don't take my word for it. There will be more forums to compare and contrast the candidates in each race. Attend a forum, or two or three, and only then form your own impressions.

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