Equity campaign complains about private polling site to Secretary of State.
By: Kyle R. Cotton
With four seats on the Alamo College’s board of trustees up for re-election May 7, a handful of Bexar County voters chose to keep the four incumbents.
Only 2.81 percent of the 557,795 registered voters in the county’s 431 reporting precincts cast a ballot for all the races.
District 1 incumbent Joe Alderete defeated artist Adan Hernandez with 72.35 percent, or 1,269 of the 1,754 votes cast.
District 2 incumbent Denver McClendon won with 52.46 percent, or 1,129 of the 2,152 votes cast.
The result was 54 votes above the mark that would have required a run-off with retired educator Viviana Valdez Sandoval, who finished with 27.04 percent, or 582 of the 2,152 votes cast.
McClendon previously had never been challenged in an election since being appointed to the board in 2003 after the then-District 2 trustee Donald McClure was indicted for accepting bribes.
District 3 incumbent Anna Bustamante won with 60.39 percent of the vote, or 1,290 of the 2,136 votes.
This is the first time Bustamante was challenged in a board election since winning her seat in May 2008 in a special election against District 3 appointee Ricardo Martinez.
District 4 incumbent Marcelo Casillas ran a close race with 51.8 percent of the vote, or 647 of 1,249 votes, beating educator Phillip “Felipe” Vargas by 45 votes.
Vargas, along with Sandoval, Hernandez and Army National Guard Specialist Joschua Harvey-Beres, are part of an organized group called “Equity for SA.”
This was their first campaign.
Vargas, who has been a vocal leader of the group, said he plans to contest the election results on grounds of voter suppression, noting South Park Mall, an early voting site, is private property and would not allow signage to be posted informing people it was a polling site.
In a conversation Vargas had with an attorney with the office of the Texas Secretary of State, the attorney said there are no regulations on private polling sites.
Vargas said he has filed an official complaint form with the Secretary of State in hopes of an investigation into the matter.
The Ranger tried to confirm an official complaint had been filed, but because of issues with the phone transfer process in the office of the Secretary of State, The Ranger could only leave a message for director of communications, Alicia Pierce.
If the results stay as they are, Vargas said this won’t be the end for the equity campaign, which will continue to run candidates in other governmental races from education to San Antonio City Council.
“The equity campaign is about being relentless and never ever giving up,” Vargas said.
On the low voter turnout, Vargas said it wasn’t apathy toward the election process, but people being tired of politics.
“They didn’t vote because they are apathetic to the situation. They didn’t turn out because they are tired of respectability politics,” Vargas said.
Vargas said “respectability” politics is when politicians vote for an agenda item they originally opposed just to give a showing of unity with the other elected representatives. He cited Alderete as an example of opposing a tax increase but ultimately voting for it.
Vargas said the reason the equity campaign chose to start with the Alamo Colleges and education because the group believes taxpayers in the less affluent areas of Bexar County are not getting the full benefit of their tax dollars.
“This is about Bexar County taxpayers’ dollars of those in the poorer communities who can’t afford to go to the Alamo Colleges due to tuition costs yet still paying,” Vargas said. “Poor kids on the South Side don’t go to SAC. I would have to look at the numbers to be sure, but I’m willing to bet that there are very few students from the surrounding community of SAC that actually go there.
“There is an education debt in these communities. Just drive around (Loop) 410 and you can see it,” Vargas said. “We have over 200 years’ worth of education debt in this country, and the equity campaign is about ensuring equality in opportunity and access.”
Casillas, who is Vargas’ uncle, has had a close relationship with the group over this election cycle and has listened to their concerns. Vargas hopes Casillas will voice the group’s concerns.
Casillas has been silent much of the time at board and committee meetings.
Vargas said he doesn’t expect that to change. When Casillas grew up, it was disrespectful to speak up; however, Vargas hopes Casillas becomes a voice of dissent on the board.
Vargas said the group is looking at information on potential candidates for the next trustee election who have shown interest in being a part of the group.
The next trustee election will be in May 2018 for Districts 5, 6 and 7. Trustees serve staggered six-year terms.