Dallas money is funding Fort Worth school board incumbents’ campaigns

Posted Wednesday, May. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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campbell Could it be that outside interests are trying to buy two Fort Worth school board races?

That’s one conclusion that might be drawn from financial disclosure reports filed by incumbent trustees running in Districts 1 and 9.

More than 80 percent of the money donated to the campaigns of Carlos Vasquez and Juan Rangel has come from outside Fort Worth. And more than 60 percent of that has come from a single source: Dallas lawyer Domingo Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year from the new District 33 that spans Tarrant and Dallas counties.

There’s nothing quite like that going on with any of the challengers who could unseat this pair of incumbents and close political allies.

Jacinto Ramos, a juvenile probation officer running against Vasquez in District 1, and Ashley Paz, a small-business owner running against Rangel in District 9, are backed by a new PAC called Citizens for Great Schools. But that group was started by parents who’ve been active in their children’s schools and have grown frustrated with board shenanigans.

The reports for Ramos and Paz show that the candidates have broad-based support within Fort Worth that includes business leaders as well as local residents — not outside interests with a sudden, curious interest in our schools.

Camille Rodriguez, a podiatrist and former trustee running to regain the District 1 seat, had raised only half as much money as the other candidates by the end of the first reporting period. She has local support, including $5,000 from Edward Lasater, a lawyer and parent who’s become a board watchdog.

Rodriguez also received a flurry of $50 contributions from lawyers affiliated with a law firm that lost the school district’s delinquent tax-collection contract when Vasquez and Rangel engineered a switch to a firm they preferred.

School board elections should be about getting the best board members who’ll put students’ interests and improvement of education first.

Forgive my cynical self if I don’t see the well-being of children in Garcia and his New American PAC giving $10,000 each to Vasquez and Rangel. The pair have sent out almost-identical mailers financed by the PAC.

Nor do I see the good of Fort Worth schools at the heart of some of these incumbents’ other contributions: $500 to each from Houston lawyer Pablo Escamilla and from San Antonio lawyer Douglas Poneck. They’re actually partners in Escamilla, Poneck & Cruz.

And Valerie Carrillo, who’s still listed as an associate on that firm’s web site, was hired recently as the district’s in-house lawyer.

Rangel also got $2,000 from Austin lawyer Kevin O’Hanlon, a former Texas Education Agency general counsel.

Vasquez told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that Garcia “has an interest in good Latino representation across the United States.”

Garcia also gave at least $16,000 to Vasquez’s unsuccessful Democratic primary race for the state House in 2012, state records show.

During that same election cycle, Garcia lost a Democratic Party runoff to Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, who now represents District 33 in Congress. But it’s widely believed that Garcia’s trying to expand his Tarrant County base for a 2014 run.

Vasquez has preposterously claimed that “downtown Tea Party” interests are trying to control the school board. And Rangel’s campaign is pushing the fiction that a “previously secret committee of power brokers” wants to run things.

The largest individual donor to Ramos and Paz ($2,500 each) is Fort Worth lawyer Rickey Brantley, whose children attended Paschal High. During highly volatile redistricting debates in 2011, he tried to persuade the board to include Park Hill and other wealthy neighborhoods in a newly drawn district that included the school.

A key organizer of the Citizens for Great Schools PAC is Isaac Manning, president of real estate development firm Trinity Works. Three of his sons graduated from Paschal, where he and his wife were heavily involved as volunteers, and he was vice chairman of the Citizens Oversight Committee for the district’s successful bond program.

Voters can make their own decisions about who’s primarily concerned about children’s best interests. I believe the evidence is clear.

Linda P. Campbell is a Star-Telegram editorial writer and columnist. lcampbell@star-telegram.com Twitter: @LindaPCampbell

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