|McALLEN, November 10 - The takeaway from last Tuesday’s election results is that two governmental entities cannot have bond issue propositions on the same ballot and both expect a “yes” vote.
This is the view of Leslie A. Gower, a partner with Proyecto Azul Consulting. Gower’s company was hired by a political action committee to do phone banking in order to secure voter approval for South Texas College’s $159 bond and maintenance package. Tens of thousands of registered voters in Hidalgo County were called.
“One of the things we can learn from this is that it is really hard to get two bond issues passed at one time,” Gower told the Guardian.
Voters in McAllen had the chance to vote for two bond issues, one proposed by STC and the other by the City of McAllen. McAllen voters said “yes” to their city’s bond issue, which was for sidewalks, drainage, sports facilities, and performing arts, but “no” to STC’s. In fact, a majority of voters in Hidalgo County voted against the STC measure but victory was secured thanks to the voters of Starr County. Gower says a great number of the “no” votes in Hidalgo County came from McAllen.
“I was amazed when I saw the election results posted because we had gotten a lot of positive reaction with our phone calls,” Gower said. “We were kind of shocked to see we barely made it over the finish line. We realized where we took a hard hit was in the McAllen area. It is almost solid green in McAllen. That is where we nearly lost it.”
Gower’s comment about McAllen’s vote being “green” refers to a map produced by Hidalgo County Elections Department. Precincts that voted “no” to the STC bond issue were marked in green while precincts that voted “yes” were colored blue.
STC’s Proposition No. 1 asked voters to support the issuance of $159,028,940 million in 20-year general obligation bonds to fund the construction and equipping of new classrooms, science and health care training labs, technical training facilities and student support services at all the College’s campuses. A tax rate increase of one-half cent would be necessary to fund the general obligation bonds for the construction of equipping of new facilities.
Proposition No. 2 asked voters to support a three-cent increase in the annual tax rate to pay for the increased maintenance and operation costs associated with the operation of the new facilities, growth in student enrollment, new faculty, and expanded programs.
In Hidalgo County, the unofficial early vote for STC's Proposition 1 was 5,928 for and 5,171 against. On Election Day, the vote was 2,462 for and 3.549 against. The unofficial early vote for STC's Proposition 2 in Hidalgo County was 5,778 for and 5,505 against. On Election Day, the vote was 2,392 for and 3.693 against.
In Starr County, the unofficial early vote for STC's Proposition 1 was 2,812 for and 625 against. On Election Day, the vote was 440 for and 158 against. The unofficial early vote for STC's Proposition 2 in Starr County was 2,606 for and 798 against. On Election Day, the vote was 391 for and 192 against.
The total unofficial vote, for both counties, was 11,642 for Proposition 1 and 9,503 against. For Proposition 2 it was 11,167 for and 10,188 against.
Gower’s company does phone banking for a number of clients but she said the contract with the STC 20/20 PAC particularly excited her because it was all about expanding educational opportunities. The PAC was led by McAllen banker David Guerra and former McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez.
“We worked really, really, hard. We called a lot of voters in the southern end of the county. That is where it particularly resonated. Some areas grabbed it. They were really excited and would start telling us stories about their child, grandchild, niece, brother, sister and how much STC means to them. You could tell it was heartfelt,” Gower said.
“I have worked a lot of campaigns and sometimes you have a hard time getting anybody to talk to you. On these calls, they were engaging with us. There was so much enthusiasm in their voices.”
Gower said her team was not concentrating on high voters or low voters. A “high voter” is the name Gower gives to those who have voted in all three of the last elections. A “low voter” is one who has voted in none or just one of the last three elections.
“After we started looking at the early voting, we ran data analytics, and it was amazing that 45 percent of the 12,300 people who voted were Zero of Threes or One of Threes. That means people who you classify as marginal voters. Campaigns usually go after Three of Threes, people who have voted in the last three elections, people who will vote even if there are hail storms outside,” Gower said.
“We knew we were resonating really strongly with those who had family members attending STC. They would say, ‘my child needs an education and STC means so much to us.’ This is the group that nobody can get motivated to go vote and to see that they went out and voted for a bond election, that is just the amazing thing to me. You could feel their heart was in it. If you can engage people on a feeling level or an emotional level you can motivate them. We felt good about the votes.”
This enthusiasm from those called through the phone banking operation made it hard for Gower to understand why a majority in Hidalgo County ended up voting “no” to STC. That was until she saw the large turnout in McAllen on Election Day.
“I was not picking up the resistance movement through our phone banking and then 3,000 votes came out in McAllen, voting ‘yes’ for McAllen and ‘no’ for STC. I think there was a big pitch at the end for the McAllen bond issue and it was like, ‘we do not want to vote for two bond issues. ‘ They chose the city. It was astounding,” Gower said.
“McAllen dumped $40,000 into a GOTV effort for their bond right at the end. We won early vote and lost the Election Day vote. It was a bare minimum win. Election Day cleaned us.”
Gower said another thing one can learn from the STC bond election is that even more education is required. “How many people really knew that for every $100,000 of tax value the STC propositions would only mean a $35 a year increase? That is not a huge chunk. When you look at so and so million dollars bond issue, it gets you all scared, but, $35 a year to educate our kids? When you look at the cycle of poverty we all know the way out of it is education. We all know STC provides the first step up for our kids. The students get degrees, they become electricians, or LVNs. They become very employable. How can you beat that? I was so enthusiastic about this and kind of taken aback by the result.”
Gower said she would like to give thanks to the voters of Starr County. “This is the second time Starr County has shown its commitment to education. In 2001, STC would have lost a bond issue but Starr County carried them to victory. They really know the value of STC. But, I do think the majority of the Hidalgo County really appreciates the importance of STC. It is just competing with people’s anti-tax feelings. When they had to vote on two taxes, McAllen voters chose their own city, not the kids and the community college. The McAllen vote was so hard it defeated the margin we had in the early vote.”
Gower also thanked Pharr Mayor Leopoldo “Polo” Palacios for his help with the vote. “One of our callers phoned a Leo Palacios and he said he could get 50 voters to support the bond issue. I looked him up and it was the mayor. He was true to his word and the Pharr vote was really good,” Gower said.
Gower said she is proud of the work Proyecto Azul Consulting did for the STC 20/20 PAC. She said 44 percent of those who pledged to vote “yes” in the early voting period did so. She also said she wants to take a closer look at the vote tallies in south McAllen, once the final numbers are tabulated. In the north of McAllen, where there is relatively more wealth, a “no” vote was perhaps to be expected because few families there have ties to STC. However, except for one precinct, south McAllen is not as prosperous as north McAllen. Gower would have expected south McAllen to vote “yes” to STC but that did not happen. “We are going to look more closely at what happened there. It is hard to fathom,” Gower said.