The results of a general election do not always predict how votes will shake out in a runoff. And voter turnout tends to decline for runoff elections, which is conducive to close races.
Houston ISD trustee Anne Sung is well aware of this. When she first secured her District VII seat in a special election in 2016, she beat John Luman by a mere 37 votes in their runoff – after being more than 6,000 votes ahead of him in a four-candidate race in the general election.
“Races can be close,” Sung said. “Voters should never doubt that their vote matters. They absolutely do.”
Sung is trying to persuade as many supporters as she can to go to the polls for her runoff against challenger Bridget Wade, who received 609 more votes than the incumbent in the Nov. 2 general election. The runoff is Dec. 11, with early voting scheduled for Nov. 29-Dec. 7, and the winner will represent a geographic area that includes Sinclair Elementary in Timbergrove.
Wade hopes to build on her momentum from Election Day, when she received 40.8 percent of the 14,984 votes cast in a four-person race that also included Dwight Jefferson and Mac Walker. Wade is a former parent-teacher organization president and private-school board member who said she was motivated to run for the HISD board to improve the functionality and reputation of both the state’s largest school district and its group of trustees, which faces a potential state takeover over what Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has called a “failure of governance.”
HISD sued Morath and the Texas Education Agency after Morath expressed his intention to replace the HISD trustees with a state-appointed board of managers in 2019. The lawsuit that will determine whether Morath has that legal authority is ongoing.
“It’s kind of like the idea of the definition of insanity,” Wade said. “Why would you keep electing the same person over and over again who’s had a history ... to a point where we’re looking at a state takeover of our democratically elected system?”
Wade credited Sung for her work to ensure educational resources for special needs students and their families but said the incumbent, the other HISD trustees and also the State Board of Education tend to “talk over” their constituents in public meetings without sincerely listening to their concerns and taking their input into consideration. Wade said she wants to give community members more of a say in what happens in HISD and its campuses.
She also said she has a vision for overhauling the makeup of the board by redrawing the maps for its nine districts, which have become gerrymandered over the years, or creating three-district coalitions based on similar demographics and common characteristics and needs within those groups of districts.
Wade said she also wants individual HISD campuses to have more autonomy in terms of how their resources are allocated, and she wants to provide more support for athletics and arts programs.
“If we get the community back engaged in the district, the parents would feel more like they have a voice and might trust to put their kids back in public education,” Wade said. “Then your academics would improve, because the kids would be improved because the parents are engaged. It all works hand in hand.”
Sung, a Harvard University graduate and former HISD teacher who has a child in the district, defended her record on the board as well as her experience in implementing educational policy and understanding the budgeting process.
She also challenged some of the claims made by Wade, saying she holds monthly meetings with parents to solicit their feedback and considers their input when making decisions.
Regarding an assertion made by Wade that HISD leadership focuses too much on college readiness and not enough on preparing students for the workforce or service in the military, Sung said that is a misconception.
“For the last five years, the HISD school board has been monitoring progress in career and technical education,” Sung said. “The number of students earning industry-based certification has increased 300 percent since 2017. So we’ve made a lot of progress in that area. It’s been a focus of the board.”
Sung said she agrees with Wade that HISD needs to budget effectively to ensure it is making the most of its financial resources. But the incumbent said she is more well-versed than her challenger in terms of executing such a strategy.
Sung also said she has more training and experience both in education and when it comes to public policy.
“As a trustee, I’ve led our board development of educational goals for our superintendent,” Sung said. “Those include early childhood education, early literacy in mathematics, college and career readiness goals and special education. Those are areas that I haven’t heard Bridget talk a lot about on the campaign trail.”
The window for campaigning is getting smaller and smaller, with early voting for the runoff starting next Monday. Both Sung and Wade said it’s important to keep the runoff on the minds of voters, who might otherwise be preoccupied with holiday shopping and spending time with family.
The runoff might be decided by who can spark the highest level of turnout among her supporters.
“Just work hard to get people to the polls and remember how important it is, and not lose the steam that we had going into Election Day on (Nov. 2),” Wade said. “We just have to keep it fresh and keep people engaged.”