District is in
vanguard of reform
By William H. Seewald
The May election for Amarillo Independent School
District trustees saw proportional voting continue to diversify the
pool of electable community members as well as reaffirm support for
trustees with long-term service their community apparently values.
When the proportional voting system was inaugurated in
2000, we became the largest political jurisdiction in the country
using this electoral method. The reforms certainly seem to be
succeeding at this point.
The old "winner-take-all," at-large rules produced no
successful nonwhite candidate for almost two decades, even though
more than 40 percent of the student-age population and more than 20
percent of the voting-age population in Amarillo is nonwhite.
In the six elections before the 2000 change, eight
times minority candidates unsuccessfully sought a place on the
board. Elijah Demerson, Carl Henderson, Dave Contreras, Joe
Peterson, Matthew Martinez, Hugo Antonio Medina, and Jose (Joe) Ruiz
all lost to white opponents at least once.
As the re-election of long-term trustee Jack Thompson
demonstrates, it isn't just about giving minorities a shot at
participation either. He drew the most votes, clearly benefiting
from service appreciated by his community and perhaps rewarded by a
constituency of educators who value a voice on the board as well.
Janie Rivas' election, which adds another woman to the
board, also represents one of the common effects of cumulative
voting. It generally tends to promote more women into office.
Her election also provided contrast to the Amarillo
College Board of Regents election, in which the at-large system
produced only Anglo victors and made Antonio Renteria the single
The surge in turnout in the 2000 board elections
reverted to the traditionally lighter numbers this year. But those
who do vote are still entitled to the better cut of the deck, and
our deeply alienated electorate isn't going to be lured back to the
polls in one electoral cycle.
Even though the 1998 LULAC lawsuit sought
single-member districts, there might be more to say for the
proportional system. It's capable of uniting like-minded members of
the electorate, irrespective of where they live.
Not all of the arguments made by those opposed to
single-member districts are simply justification for the status quo
Districts that are gerrymandered to produce a safe
seat for a particular group always tend to leave members of the same
constituency marooned in other districts with no hope of electing
anyone. Where we are a less segregated society, that is a real issue
that proportional voting successfully addresses without having to go
through all the machinations of redistricting.
The United States is among a diminishing number of
democratic nations that don't employ some kind of proportional (or
modified proportional) voting to elect one house of their
If the rest of the country were willing to embark on
the kinds of progressive reforms being tried right here in Amarillo,
we could rid ourselves of some of the endless redistricting dramas
while assuring that the playing field can be leveled for everyone.