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Amarillo Globe-News

AISD election again eyes cumulative voting outcome
By Beth Wilson
April 28, 2002

AISD switched to cumulative voting in 1999 and elected its first black and Hispanic trustees in May 2000, the first election to use the new process.

Cumulative voting is the compromise settled on in 1999 after the League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and three individuals filed a lawsuit against AISD after the May 1998 school board elections. The group requested the district move from at-large positions to single-member districts, claiming the procedure at that time diluted the powers of minority voting.

At least eight minority candidates had been unsuccessful in election to AISD board in the 12 years before 2000.

In cumulative voting, a voter has a number of votes equal to the number of positions available. In Saturday's election, three board positions are up for grabs, and each voter will have three votes.

Five people are running for three board positions: Incumbents Julie Attebury and Jack Thompson and newcomers Janie Rivas, Jim Austin and LaRue M. Hite.

David Rausch, a political science professor at West Texas A&M University, studied the 2000 elections and will watch the second round of cumulative voting for more research. The major benefit of cumulative voting is voters can show strong support for one candidate, Rausch said.

"We're still at-large, but now we vote for our favorites, all my votes to one person," Rausch said.

But in studying the results of 2000, Rausch noted another factor in AISD board elections - a group of business leaders called BIOS, Business in Our Schools.

BIOS has endorsed candidates since 1980 and never picked a loser, said Don Curphey, one of its earliest members.

"I hope that's at least in part because people have confidence in our recommendation," he said. "There's a pretty good likelihood that the people serving now are doing so because they were endorsed by the BIOS and encouraged to run by the BIOS."

The group's interest is in getting qualified people on the board, Curphey said. The group provides support, financial and otherwise, to people they think have a quality the board needs. Membership in BIOS is ever-changing. BIOS collects no dues, elects no officers and selects its choices for candidates based on investigation, not necessarily individual interviews, Curphey said.

The two candidates with BIOS backing in this election are Attebury and Austin. Curphey said the group's support of Attebury is a continuation of support given when she ran in 1998. Austin has the fiscal knowledge needed to make up for Sam Lovelady's departure, he said. Lovelady, an accountant, isn't running for re-election.

"We're not against anybody," Curphey said."We're just for people we've identified as having something special to offer that relates to a special need."

BIOS seeks no publicity for its endorsements. Curphey said group members receive letters explaining reasons for their endorsements and requesting monetary support.

But the influence spreads from there.

James Allen, endorsed by BIOS in 2000 for the AISD board, said that endorsement paired with his broad-based message helped him win.

"Any endorsement I received had an impact," Allen said. "Members of the BIOS group, their co-workers, their circle of friends are probably people that go out and vote. My appeal was broad-based, not business against homemaker, not black or white, not northwest or southwest Amarillo. I said if elected, I would represent all of Amarillo's school district."

Rita Sandoval, also endorsed by BIOS in 2000, said the influence of that endorsement might not have spread past the business circle, but the larger community was ready to put minorities on the board.

"People were looking at the possibility that it was OK to have minority groups on the board and that it was the right thing to do," she said.

Alphonso Vaughn, president of the local NAACP branch, said the publicity from the lawsuit brought the issue of minority representation to the forefront.

More people, including BIOS, were considering the benefits of different cultural perspectives working together, he said.

"It (BIOS' endorsement of Sandoval and Allen) probably had some effect because they too wanted to have more inclusion from all areas of the city," Vaughn said. "It was a neat time, a very reflective time, for them to look at all the candidates and see what they can bring to the table."

David Almager, a local political consultant who was involved in bringing cumulative voting to AISD, said any endorsement helps a candidate, but people - minorities and majorities - using more than one vote for minority candidates made a difference in 2000.

Cumulative voting is still a new process for Amarillo. Saturday's election are sure to bring more discussion about the process, its intended outcome and its future.

"What I'm feeling, what the community is feeling, is this is a good opportunity to see if it can work," Almager said. "We'll see after this election if this tool will be used to elect more minorities to this position."

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