Though many in Texas have their eyes focused on November, there are still several key local runoff elections happening throughout the state. Perhaps one of the most important local races is in Dallas, for a spot on the Dallas College Board of Trustees.
Dallas College, formerly known as Dallas County Community College District, is comprised of seven districts. In May there was a special election in District One. None of the candidates garnered over 50 percent of the vote. The two candidates who did advance were Dr. Catalina Garcia, who came in first with 35.9 percent of the vote, and Lynn Davenport, with 32.1 percent.
The incumbent who did not advance, Gretchen Minyard Williams, was filling the term of her late husband who passed away while in office. Williams was by far the “establishment” choice. She was well-financed and had the endorsement of The Dallas Morning News. Still, without even a campaign manager, Davenport eked out second place for the runoff by fifteen votes. Davenport, a former IT recruiter who previously ran unsuccessfully for the Richardson School Board, largely runs her campaign through a robust social media presence. Her social media feeds include several conspiracy theories about data harvesting, vaccines, and blockchain technology. She has appeared on the ultra-rightwing platform InfoWars, which was started by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Garcia is a retired anesthesiologist who is running with several “prescriptions” for Dallas College: including keeping tuition rates affordable, providing stronger technical training, and ensuring that graduates have the educational background to enter a competitive workforce. She has the support of every returning Dallas College board member and a slew of prominent North Texas figures including Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, District Attorney John Creuzot, State Senator Royce West and many state representatives including Jasmine Crockett, Victoria Neave and Ana-Maria Ramos. The Signal caught up with Garcia in between campaigning to ask her why she decided to run, and how the race is shaping up.
A lifelong Texan, Garcia has been a recipient of public education ever since she entered kindergarten in El Paso. Her father was a mechanic at Fort Bliss, and she recalls being introduced to “multiculturalism” in a classroom that was composed of students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Garcia would go on to attend UTEP, and later became one of the first Latinas to graduate from UT Southwestern Medical School.
When the election for this district seat loomed, Garcia started doing her research and talking with educators. She realized that her skills and talents made her a great fit for this important position. “I am a problem-solver, I enjoy challenges, that’s why I went into anesthesia,” she tells the Signal.
Garcia acknowledges that Dallas College has some current consolidation pangs. Recently, Dallas College completed a major restructuring, becoming one single college with seven schools of instruction that parallel the career paths in the curriculum. “I think everybody who is there wants to serve the students, wants to serve our community, but I think so much happened that wasn’t planned for,” says Garcia, citing several things that can be improved, including scheduling, budgeting, and student services, especially for those that are the first in their family to attend college.
Like many rightwing activists who have won school board seats around the state, Davenport has benefited from mobilizing a small, but devoted, following who are opposed to various issues like vaccines and critical race theory. Voting in the May election was under 8 percent, and the runoff is likely to be even lower than that.
The Dallas County Republican Party is encouraging its members to vote for Davenport on their website. Garcia likes to stress that the race is nonpartisan, and she has no underlying political ideology she wants to bring to Dallas College.
With the runoff so close, Garcia is staying focused by turning out the vote and meeting with as many potential voters as possible. As part of her pitch, she stresses that nonpartisan pledge to anybody who will listen. “I am not here as a party affiliate, I am here to tell you why you need to vote for me because we all have an interest in Dallas College,” she says.
The runoff election for Dallas College District is Saturday, June 18. Early voting has started and goes until Tuesday, June 14.