Monday, May 8, 2017

RISD Election Analysis

On Saturday, May 6, Karen Clardy, Justin Bono, and Kristin Kuhne were elected to the Richardson ISD board of trustees (Bono and Kuhne to three-year terms, Clardy to the two years remaining on the term vacated by Kris Oliver). Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all candidates who volunteered to serve our community.

In the most contested race (Place 7: Kuhne vs Davenport) there were 11,209 votes cast, compared to 10,460 in the other contested race (Place 6: Clardy, Eager, Armstrong, Prado). Contrast both of those totals with the 9,507 votes in 2016 for a bond election. This year's interest was higher than normal, but note that 18,667 voters turned out for the 2011 RISD bond election, so this year's interest was not all that high. Countywide, turnout was only 7.81%. Attribute it to complacency, apathy, hopelessness, or whatever, turnout is low and unhealthy for democracy.

Let's look at the individual races.

RISD election map
Dark Green: Davenport. Bright Green: Kuhne.

It's obvious from a glance at the electoral map that RISD was divided on geographical lines. Davenport ran up huge margins in the Lake Highlands area (89% in her home precinct). Kuhne won majorities in the other three high school attendance areas (74% in her own home precinct). That the challenger won in Lake Highlands isn't surprising. The most controversial topic in the district has been what to do about overcrowding in White Rock Elementary. All proposed solutions (expansion, new grade K-6 school(s) with new attendance boundaries, new grade 5-6 schools with same attendance boundaries, magnet schools), have been met with significant resistance from one faction or another. In the end, Lake Highlands voters took out their frustrations on the incumbent, Kristin Kuhne.

How much of a factor other issues were in voters' minds is impossible to guess. Even though Kuhne herself didn't make it an issue, others, including this blog, made note of Davenport's political history. One person on Facebook, not associated with the Kuhne campaign, crudely described "crazy right wing radicals, wackadoodles, and curmudgeons" surrounding Davenport. That might have frightened some voters away from Davenport, not in Lake Highlands, but perhaps elsewhere, although it's hard to know how much reach Facebook politics pages have. The Davenport campaign's own [alleged] tactic of using phone calls to voters to accuse Kuhne of wanting to increase class sizes, which Kuhne categorically denied, [if true] may have backfired on Davenport, increasing turnout by voters who don't like negative campaigning. Support for this theory might be indirectly visible in the electoral map for Place 6 (Clardy, Eager, Armstrong, Prado).

RISD election map
Maroon: Clardy. Purple: Eager.

Karen Clardy, as identifiable as a "Lake Highlands candidate" as any in memory, won big majorities in Lake Highlands and pluralities all across the district, except for Dallas precincts west of Coit Rd, which is where Eric Eager's home precinct is. How Clardy was able to accomplish that and Davenport wasn't maybe can be explained by the kind of candidate each was. Clardy ran a positive campaign, speaking well of the district and her opponents. She looked at all times like she truly liked the other candidates. Contrast that with Davenport's campaign. In an early forum, Davenport described herself as both "a cheerleader and a critic" of RISD. I was favorably inclined to *that* candidate and said so. Then, as the campaign wore on, I came to see her as a candidate who always saw the glass as half-empty, never half-full. Perhaps Davenport was too much the critic, too little the cheerleader for RISD voters.

Clardy's pleasant demeanor won enough support all across the district to win an outright majority and avoid a run-off election against any of her three opponents. Why those opponents failed to attract majority support themselves is impossible to say for sure. But Eager and Armstrong didn't have much of a record of RISD service. In some ways, it was hard to distinguish between them. Prado stood out by being young, too young to have much of a resume at all. Clardy's two decades of employment with RISD gave her some name recognition to start with. She ran on a claim of knowing the issues by being in the school, all day, every day. That probably had a powerful pull on the voters. Even though each of the four candidates would have been an asset to RISD on the board of trustees, this race was Clardy's to lose from the start, and she didn't do anything to lose it.

All that said, let's not overstate Clardy's support outside Lake Highlands. She won pluralities in most of the northern precincts, but not outright majorities. More people voted against her in the other three high school attendance zones than voted for her. And if you restrict your look to just the RISD precincts in North Dallas, Clardy lost 10 of 16 districts outright. Carol Toler of the Lake Highlands Advocate said, "@KristinForRISD won the election but @lynnsdavenport won 20 of 22 precincts [in Lake Highlands]. Can @RichardsonISD build bridges?" Maybe she should also ask, "Can Lake Highlands build bridges to North Dallas?" Besides, RISD voters elected Clardy, the third trustee from the Lake Highlands area. And almost elected a fourth, Lynn Davenport. Just how many bridges does Lake Highlands feel entitled to? I apologize for the snark. In fact, it's past time to pull together as one school district, one community. The divides are real, but let's quit putting all of the onus on the "other" party to bridge them.

But enough. Let's quit dodging the real explanation of the results. The Wheel recommended voting for Karen Clardy, Justin Bono, and Kristin Kuhne. All three won. The Wheel's endorsement was obviously, ipso facto, decisive. ;-)

Not to get too quick a start on the May, 2018, RISD election, trustees Jean Bono and Kim Caston have terms that expire in 2018. ;-)

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

I've updated the post to add "alleged" to the statement, "The Davenport campaign's own [alleged] tactic of using phone calls to voters to accuse Kuhne of wanting to increase class sizes" ...

Kuhne said on Facebook, "My opponent claims I voted to increase class sizes."
Davenport responded on Twitter, "There was no vote."

I found this response to be incomplete. I expected the Davenport campaign to release an audio or transcript of any robocalls, but they didn't. This whole exchange has bothered me. I did not receive any calls from the Davenport campaign, so I could not independently verify Kuhne's claim, but Davenport herself, in addressing the claim, provided only a partial denial, and that of only a technical detail (was it a "vote"?).

I acknowledge that I made an error in presenting Kuhne's charge as fact, when I can't independently verify it. I still can't, so all I can say for sure is that the phone calls were "alleged."