A polling place at El Paso Community College Transmountain Campus on Saturday morning. | Photo by Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters

Voters oust one El Paso ISD school board incumbent and two in Socorro ISD

One El Paso ISD school board incumbent was defeated Saturday and another re-elected.

District 3 incumbent Josh Acevedo was re-elected to a spot on the El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees while District 4 Trustee Diane Dye was ousted.

In the two races without incumbents, Leah Hanany won the District 1 seat, while Israel Irrobali, the leading candidate for the District 5 seat, was just under the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Socorro ISD incumbents Cynthia Najera and Paul Guerra were re-elected, while Angelica Rodriguez and Gary Gandara were defeated by challengers Ricardo Castellano and Pablo Barrera.

Only 7,823 people — 3.6% of registered voters — cast a ballot in the May 1 election, which also included municipal elections for Anthony and Horizon City and a handful of utility district seats.

Most votes came during the nine-day early voting period that ran from April 19-27. Only 2,866 people voted in person on Election Day, according to unofficial final results.

Of those who participated in the school board elections, 4,983 voted in the EPISD races and 2,654 voted in the SISD races.

El Paso ISD

District 1 candidate Leah Hanany was elected with just over 50% of the vote. Arturo Dominguez received about 27% and Jennie Tipton Lasley about 22%.

In District 3, Josh Acevedo was re-elected with close to 70% of the vote. Leslie Hoard received about 27% and Rene Fierro about 3%.

Isabel Hernandez was elected to the District 4 seat with nearly 58% of the vote. Betty Ann Halliburton trailed with nearly 17%, followed by incumbent Diane Dye, who garnered just over 8%. Frances De Santos Whitaker, Fainot Pierre and Claudia Soto each tallied less than 7%.

Israel Irrobali led the District 5 race with just over 48% of the vote, followed by Vanessa Betts with about 17%. The two will face off in a runoff election, the date of which has yet to be set, according to elections administrator Lisa Wise. In 2019, the EPISD runoffs were held in mid-June.

The other District 5 challengers — Willeta Corbett, Stephen Hayes and Jerome Tilghman — each pulled in between 13% and 9% of the vote.

Stephen Hayes, a candidate for EPISD’s District 5 seat, and his daughter, Kyra, wait at the polling place at EPCC’s Transmountain campus to speak to potential voters on Saturday morning. | Photo by Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters

The unofficial final results appear to be a split decision for the two groups that spent large sums of money on the EPISD races: the American Federation of Teachers and Kids First PAC. Both poured thousands of dollars into the election.

The union backed Hanany, Acevedo, Halliburton and Betts and invested $14,000 in cash into their campaigns, giving Hanany and Acevedo each $5,000 and Halliburton and Betts both $2,000, according to April 1 and April 23 campaign finance reports the candidates filed.

Texas AFT’s political action committee also invested in these candidates through in-kind donations for printing, mailers and advertisements. It gave Hanany $7,278, Acevedo $6,726, Halliburton $2,946 and Betts $2,946, according to their reports.

Kids First PAC, which is tied to the Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development, also spent heavily on its favored candidates: Tipton Lasley, Hoard, Hernandez and Irrobali.

The PAC spent $35,851 on a range of campaign services, including mailers, canvassing and phone banking, according to its April 1 and April 23 campaign finance reports.

Socorro ISD

Unlike EPISD, SISD uses plurality voting, where the candidate with the most votes wins.

District 2 incumbent Cynthia “Cindy” Najera, who has been on the board since 2010, was re-elected to another four-year term with nearly 52% of the vote. Challengers Veronica Esparza received about 26%, followed by William Carrasco with about 12% and Jack Duncan Jr. with about 10%.

District 3 challenger Ricardo Castellano narrowly unseated longtime Trustee Angelica Rodriguez, who had held the seat since 2010. Castellano earned close to 49% of the vote, with Rodriguez getting about 43% — a difference of 23 votes. Challenger Fancy Adams had about 9% of the vote.

District 4 incumbent Paul Guerra, who has also been on the board since 2010, secured another term with nearly 65% of the vote. Challenger Jaime Martinez received almost 35%.

In District 5, Pablo Barrera unseated incumbent Gary Gandara, receiving about 52% of the vote. Gandara, who was first elected in 2013, got about 48% — a difference of 23 votes.

The polling place at Mesita Elementary School was nearly empty Saturday morning. | Photo by Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters

The Socorro chapter of the American Federation of Teachers backed the incumbents, giving them each $1,500.

Texas AFT’s political action committee gave Najera, Rodriguez, Guerra and Gandara $3,775 each for campaign services, including digital ads and mailers, according to candidates’ campaign finance reports.

Castellano and Barrera were financed by law enforcement groups. Castellano is a retired police officer and Barrera is a retired Border Patrol agent.

The El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association gave Castellano $1,500 and Barrera $1,000, according to their campaign finance reports. The El Paso Sheriff’s Officers Association gave them each $1,000.

Author – Molly Smith

Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014, with stops in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and now El Paso. She can be reached at [email protected] or 915-247-8857.