COMMENTARY by BRAD ROLLINS
Two candidates bearing locally famous political last names are going head-to-head in the only contested San Marcos CISD trustee race on the May 10 ballot.
Naomi Narvaiz, a prominent Republican partisan also active in an array of non-political community organizations, is related by marriage to three-term former San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, who still commands loyalty from pockets of devotees 4½ years after leaving office.
The local mid-cities phone book, meanwhile, lists more than 330 households that share a surname with Danny Gonzales, a manager at TXI Hunter Cement who carries his own voluminous résumé of volunteer work in San Marcos. Around here, of course, the best known Gonzales is Hays County Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, who has held her office for more than 17 years as the soft-spoken and unassuming keeper of a durable political dynasty.
Neither the former mayor nor the veteran county commissioner are likely to engage in the school board campaign in any meaningful way. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine their getting involved in any capacity.
Susan Narvaiz is presently departing La Mancha for a second unenviable turn as the Republican Party’s nominee against U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who holds a huge advantage in his gerrymandered stronghold. In the opposing camp, Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe is not even related to Danny Gonzales, who has lived in the San Marcos area for more than two decades but was born and raised in Frio County, south of San Antonio. If Danny and Debbie are family, it is in a very, very extended sense.
San Marcos school board races, however, are notoriously low-turnout, low-information affairs, especially in single-member districts like the one Gonzales and Narvaiz want to represent. People are so disengaged from the school district’s administration that two of the board’s longest-serving members, Margie Villalpando and Lupe Costilla, did not even draw opponents.
Narvaiz and Gonzales are jockeying to replace trustee David Castillo, who took office in 2008 with 173 of 255 votes cast in a three-way contest against incumbent Joe Castillo and Lee “Barry” Davis. Three years later, the bar was lower still. David Castillo beat a comeback bid from Joe Castillo with 148 of 191 votes cast.
Of the 2,882 people who voted in the May 2013 school bond election — a high-turnout affair by San Marcos CISD standards — only 197 of them lived in District 1, about 6.8 percent of the total. So we’re not talking big numbers here.
When this many people are this checked out, the name game should not be discounted as a potential factor.
In a small pond election, both campaigns will focus above all on turning out their own friends and family to cast ballots. The election will be won or lost, almost without a doubt, based on how many intimates and acquaintances each of the candidates can physically deliver to the New Life Christian Center, the only polling place that will be opened on Election Day.
If it turns out to be a close contest — if both candidates have comparable numbers of contacts —having worked every angle could be decisive.
Many unaffiliated voters — the trickle or stream of people who don’t know either contender personally — will make their decisions, in a best case scenario, by comparing biographical bullet points and superficial soundbites offered as answers to the layered and opaque problems that confound public education in general and San Marcos CISD in particular.
That’s not a knock on the candidates or the voters; it’s just the way it is. In any election, many a potential voter — in this case, an overworked and maybe overwhelmed parent of one or more school-age kids — will be thinking in shorthand and looking for signposts when deciding who to vote for. Since the school board election is sandwiched between last week’s party primaries and the late-May primary runoffs, the average guy is going to be especially disinclined to dig deep.
No matter how many hands they shake and how many blocks they walk in the next two months, Danny Gonzales and Naomi Narvaiz will not be better known, or better defined in people’s minds, than are Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe and Susan Narvaiz. Both the county commissioner and the former mayor have never lost a local race, except for Narvaiz’s inaugural bid for mayor in 1998 when she was new to town and nevertheless came within a few dozen votes of unseating incumbent Billy Moore.
Either family name, in other words, could be helpful in a crunch.
But since District 1’s boundaries most closely coincides with Ingalsbe’s untouchable home turf, Danny Gonzales, in particular, should make sure his yard signs are dominated by one word and precious little else — “GONZALES.” In the biggest, fattest letters that will fit.
Through the power of name recognition, Naomi Narvaiz and Danny Gonzales could have invisible — but influential — running mates who never consented to being on the ticket. Even the most ethereal connection to known quantities like Commissioner Ingalsbe and Mayor Narvaiz seems likely to help harried voters choose between relatively unknown quantities like Candidate Gonzales and Candidate Narvaiz.
Keeping with democracy’s hallowed messiness, the decision making process of many voters, maybe a majority, is not an exercise in logic. That’s to be expected.
Logic and local politics, after all, only rarely run in the same crowd.-
BRAD ROLLINS is editor and publisher of the San Marcos Mercury.
CORRECTION: Former San Marcos CISD trustee David Castillo was first elected in 2008, not 2009, as this story originally reported.Email | Print