Civil society and the Alamo Colleges Trustee run-off elections

If you read the article from the Ranger I posted earlier, you may know that I was a candidate for the Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees, in 2006. You also may have noticed when reading that post that there are two run-off elections for seats on that board tomorrow, Saturday, 21 June. The seats in question are for districts 4 and 8.

I want to follow up on that old article and to tell my story of why I ran for a seat way back then. It may shed light on why someone like me would run for an elected office that is thankless, pays nothing, and does require honest, hard effort at. For me it all began, while I was working with a student at San Antonio College. Then I worked as a job coach with the North East School District, working with an adult student with disabilities. The job entailed working with those students in preparing them for life outside of the public school system. The student I was with had an interest in anime and SAC happened to have an anime club at the time. While the student was at the club meeting, I was reading the Ranger outside the door of the classroom my student was in.

There was an article in the school’s paper talking about the upcoming board elections and that no one up for election at that point had an opponent. The chairman of the board at the time took that as a sign of proud accomplishment. I took his statement more as indifference among voters and arrogance from him. The next day, I was a candidate opposing one of the other board members.

As you can imagine my frustration turned inward to my positive experiences growing up on military bases and being a student in the Department of Defense school system and how that was a positive part of me not just as a student, but as an adult later on. From my family and the other families on base, I understood how neighbors can come together to help one another and build a strong community and culture. In those schools, I learned to ask questions, to question authority, and how that was essential to civil society and was the answer to a government that can easily lose touch with the community it serves.
My experiences visiting my family in Vietnam in 1999 reinforced that too. And my struggles with mental illness and my service on the Community Action Advisory Board, where I got to see poverty, homelessness, and hunger up close and hear the stories of those who were making it our of poverty, and those that were struggling to, those experiences reminded me that if we can take care of ourselves, then perhaps we have a civil obligation to help others so they can take care of themselves too.

Early frustrations and anger at what I saw as an arrogant, out of touch, trustee, who wasn’t even my opponent… turned to a community, people centered message tied by my own up and down life experiences and the stories I not only heard and saw, but also lived.

My platform was simple, our community colleges as centers of community and culture, tying the surrounding neighbors to those colleges with the students that attend them. The colleges needed to build closer bonds with the neighborhood, primarily through the public and private schools around them. The district needed to build closer bonds with the businesses were, students could go and hang out, study, socialize, etc. The idea was to build a more holistic relationship with not just the neighborhoods, but with students, faculty, administration, businesses that could allow for more open communication, open transparency in the decisions the board of trustees and district administration makes, and create a campus life that would positively impact student’s education and future in our city.

Really, my platform was even simpler than that. As trustees, we just needed to go out and talk with our students, faculty, and neighbors. In the end, I was perhaps seen as too idealistic by the few who voted. My opponent, the incumbent won, and later resigned to move on with life before his term was over. He sighted communication problems as a key reason for resigning.

No, I have no intention of running for a seat on the Alamo College Board of Trustees anytime soon, if ever. The trustee who represents me is well qualified and seems to do a good job on the board and even if she were to not run again, I’ve moved on too.
Still there is an election tomorrow and if you are registered to vote and live in either district I encourage you to learn about our colleges board of trustees, the important role it plays in our community and the candidates that are in the run-off. I’m not asking you to vote, but to play a role in our civil society and if you choose to vote, to vote smart tomorrow.

In the Alamo College Board of Trustee, District No. 4 run-off election the candidates are Albert R. Herrera and Lorena “Lorraine” Pulido. In District No. 8 the candidates in the run-off election are Clint Kingsbery and Gary Beitzel.

Le Lowry, Board candidate in political office since age 24

When I ran for a seat on the Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees, I was already serving as an elected Representative of the Poor with the City of San Antonio, and as a precinct chair with the Bexar County Democratic Party. This was my first run for office outside of those two positions. The article posted below is from San Antonio College’s student newspaper, the Ranger.

Le Lowry
Board candidate in political office since age 24
By: Amber Whittaker
Posted: 4/6/06

If 30-year-old Le Lowry is elected to the district board, his age won’t be the only characteristic to distinguish him from other trustees. Lowry is opposing incumbent Charles Conner, board chairman and District 7 representative.

Lowry is a Buddhist and a self-described “Army brat” who was raised in South Korea and Okinawa. He now lives with his family on the North Side. The teaching assistant at North East Transition School has struggled with Tourette’s syndrome and bouts of depression stemming from the disorder.

“When you make funny noises, people pick on you. I spent a lot of time on my own,” Lowry said, referring to adolescence before he was diagnosed with Tourette’s.

The disorder, which manifests itself as quick, sporadic grunts instead of the commonly recognized erratic string of words or profanity, was ignored as a quirk until he was 19.
But it is no longer an obstacle for him. “It’s been a source of strength for me,” Lowry said.
He said because of the depression, he may never know consistent happiness, “But I’m going to be damned if I’m going to let someone have a miserable life if they don’t have to.”

That political conviction was strengthened in 1999 when Lowry campaigned in Minnesota for the implementation of a fusion ballot, which would allow candidates to run as a member of multiple parties on the same ballot. Lowry has since abandoned the cause. But not his civic duty. “We have to do more than vote,” he said about young people.

In 2000, Lowry was elected as an alternate to the Community Action Advisory Board as a representative for the poor, as well as a Democratic precinct chair. In January he became a regular member of the Advisory board, which provides oversight for social programs in the city.

Lowry’s political views were influenced by his Army background, where he said his family was part of a community very different from civilian life.

In 1999 before he ran for office, his mother took him to her family home in Vietnam.
“You know that song ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’? Well, I left my heart in Saigon,” Lowry said.

While Vietnam is communist, Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, did not remind Lowry of what he imagined communism to look like. “The city was bustling with life. You don’t see serious and sad people. They are very industrious, very community-minded. Neighbors get involved with each other,” Lowry said.

Lowry has attended college here, as well as the University of Texas at San Antonio and St. Mary’s University. He said he wants the colleges of this district to be a place for the city to gather and for culture to spread to other areas. Lowry is planning informal meet and greets at several coffee shops in town, but he will be running a mostly Internet-based campaign. His Web site is http://www.lelowry.com.

While Lowry said he doesn’t earn enough money on his modest teacher’s assistant salary to spare for an ambitious campaign, he’s not deterred.

“If you can take care of yourself, you have to help other people.”

© Copyright 2007 The Ranger 

On the beginnings of Spring, Allergies, and the Church of Baseball

I went to see our San Antonio Missions play ball yesterday evening. For me it is the start of my home team’s season home opener that is truly the beginning of Spring. That and the first really bad onslaught with allergies.

Picked up a book on the history of the Texas League and got it signed by the writers. Who also encouraged me to write about my experiences as a little league coach while I was a teenager in Korea.

Won small keychains on a spinning wheel, which I gave to two kids sitting next to me during the game.

Later I won a pair of tickets to a future game on the same spinning wheel. I blamed a kid standing next to him for my good fortune and bought him a spin. He won a pair of tickets too.

Bought a fitted Missions on the road ball cap.

Talked about the great Philadelphia Phillies from the early 80s with a teen who’s family is from Philly.

If you were to ask me what religion I practice… it’s the Church of Baseball.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball…

Sometimes it seems like a bad trade, but bad trades are part of baseball. Now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake! It’s a long season, and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried them all, I really have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” – Annie Davoy from Bull Durham

Oh, and I watched a baseball game.

 

On debate challenges and having a big pair of…

Democratic candidate for Texas Comptroller, Mike Collier, has previosly challenged Republican candidate Glenn Hegar to a debate, and never got a response.

Knowing that Glenn Hegar likes to speak at more supportive Tea Party meetings, Mike Collier did what any Texan would do in his situation and again challenged his Republican counterpart to another debate while upping the ante.

Collier said that debate can be at the Tea Party meeting of Hegar’s choosing.

A friend of mine would likely quip that Mike Collier has the biggest pair of ovaries this side of the Red River.

Both the Green Party and Libertarian Party will be choosing their candidates for Comptroller and other elected iffices at their respective state conventions this coming Saturday 12 April.

Spin, spin, spin

I rarely comment on the goings on of Westboro Baptist Church. They have a right to protest and others have a right to counter-protest and I’ll leave it at that. However I noticed the difference between how the church tried to spin a recent protest on Vine compared to a video from a counter-protester on YouTube that showed more of what occurred at the end of the protest.

As is usually the case with political spin like in the Vine, so much is used in order to be taken and out of context by selectively leaving a lot of information out. As an article from the Huffington Post notes, the church abandoned their protest 8 minutes into their planned 30 minute protest, and that the local police made no arrests and stated, “that the crowd remained ‘relatively respectful.'”

The point I am trying to make is, as a consumer of information and as a citizen, it is very important make an effort to understand both sides of the issues that are important to you and at the center of your life. It will certainly allow you to take a more complete look at the world all around you and communities and neighborhoods that we live in and are engaged with in our lives.

Breathe Politics

Some noticed I was commenting on both the President’s State of the Union Address and the Republican Party’s response on my Facebook Page. There’s a reason why I do this to some degree every year and it’s not to change minds in regards to politics but rather to engage in conversation.

I’ve learned this in debating politics in coffee shops and pubs around town; you don’t debate politics to win or to change opinions, rather you debate politics to seek knowledge and (at least for me) to encourage political action through conversation. We can vote and donate our time and money to a candidate or a cause we support, but one vote doesn’t make a difference. However when your one vote is canvassed with other like minded votes that makes a difference.

But even canvassing with other voters will not work, unless you’re unafraid to join the discussion at the coffeeshop, the pub, or the water cooler at work.

A Vision of America

The President’s State of the Union address to Congress is more than a president’s opportunity to lay out his agenda for the coming two years that Congress is in session. It is also an address that lays out a president’s vision of America. I will admit that I have purposely kept myself, somewhat, in the dark about the address itself this time. Instead, I am looking at what I want our president and Congress to accomplish through the lens of my vision of America. That vision, by the way, I am not sharing at the moment.

However, for me the biggest issue our nation faces is income inequality. I recently read a discussion on a friend’s Facebook page asking the question, “What is American Exceptionalism?” American Exceptionalism is rooted in the basis that the United States is the first modern democratic republic, centered around liberty and equality. What makes the United States exceptional is not the power we project throughout the world, but rather that our nation’s beginnings are different than other nations around during our founding and that despite that challenges and shortcoming our nation has faced and continues to face both at home and abroad, we are still here as a nation and exist as one of the oldest democratic republican nations today.

Why mention American Exceptionalism? Because is centered around liberty and equality. I would expect that President Obama will address income inequality at the heart of his State of the Union. This is an issue he has often addressed as President and has just as frequently come up short in finding solutions. It is in his first inaugural address as President that he makes mention as a key to reducing income inequality, it is rooted alongside liberty and equality and is often forgotten. That is community, as a nation we must work collectively as a nation of individuals to reduce income inequality. It is through our government that this can happen. We often talk about big government and limited government and I believe we miss the point of government when we do that. Government, whether it is based in Washington, Austin, San Antonio, or a school district, is a tool for the people. We should talk of a responsible government and that take collective and vigilant action to achieve.

I hope that President Obama talks about a responsive government that works for the people, regardless of is big or limited size. I hope he talks about issue of partisanship in Washington. I hope he talks about the Affordable Care Act, immigration, security, and other issues that are at the center of our lives. I hope he will talk about these in his State of the Union Address to Congress and reminds all of us, that despite our differences, we are in this together, we should not feel the need to go it alone, and that the world is watching America. The world is watching us because of what is suppose to make us exceptional to the rest of the world. That despite our differences, despite our shortcomings, as a nation we will come together to move our nation forward and with it move the world forward as a leader among nations.

Change candidate, establishment candidate.

Back in 2006 I was a candidate for a seat on the Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees. One of the people who supported and made a donation to my campaign asked me if I was running as the change or the establishment candidate. It was a rhetorical question, that he wanted me to answer later.

My opponent, who was the incumbent, was that establishment candidate. The problem was, he and I agreed on virtually every issue. The difference was our priorities and approach to working on those issues. I believe this was one of the reasons I didn’t win the election. Since I was not a change candidate that offered a different vision of the Alamo Colleges, my own ability to stay passionate and committed to running often wavered. After the election my opponent would introduce me to other board members and encourage me to attend and speak up at meetings as a citizen to be heard.

This story about myself leads me to this; in the fall of 2003, a friend asked me to pick who’d be the next president. Early opinion and polls showed a toss up between Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Realizing that voters would be inclined to support a change candidate after 8 years of Bush (and 8 years of Clinton) and that the nation was in an economic recession, I said Sen. Barack Obama would become president if he decided to run.

I would also note that I believed that Governor Tim Pawlenty would offer the best choice for the GOP in 2012 as a change candidate against President Obama, by now the establishment candidate. Pawlenty dropped out early after a miserably showing at the Iowa GOP straw polls. A move he later regretted. I would argue that this played the largest part in Gov. Mitt Romney becoming the nominee and Pres. Obama being able to shed the establishment label and run again as a change candidate. Romney essentially serving as a continued surrogate, like McCain, as part of the establishment of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. I believe if he stayed in the race Pawlenty would have been a stronger opponent that Romney. Even in defeat Pawlenty, more than Sen. Rick Santorum, would have pushed Romney to establish his identity early as a change candidate.

It is too early to pick nominees for 2016, however, at this point it’s Secretary Clinton’s election to lose. She is in a unique position being part of the old guard establishment in Washington on one hand, but being a change candidate in contrast to both Obama and Speaker John Boehner the leader of the Republican Party. However, especially if Clinton runs, the story to pay attention to will be this one…

Sen. Bernie Sanders, as an independent running for President. Sanders has said he would put serious thought in running for president if there is no strong run by a liberal Democrat in the primaries. So far, aside from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I don’t see any Paul Wellstone-esque Democrats considering a serious run for president. Warren supporters have suggested she may run, but I doubt she will because of the success she’s had as a senator. She may find that she will, and has, done more good in Congress.

If this happens and Clinton runs and is essentially anointed as the Democrats nominee, I expect Sanders to run for president. As and independent and the only elected Socialist in Washington, he is not only a change candidate to the establishment of Obama/Bush/Clinton, but represents a unique contrast from the possibility of Tea Party candidate coming from the GOP. Any Tea Party candidate would try to run as a change candidate. A Sanders campaign as a Socialist and an independent would make both Clinton and whoever is the GOP nominee, establishment candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders would also be a positively contrast to the change offered by GOP should they nominate a Tea Party supported candidate. That could very well marginalize the GOP and turn it into a race between Sanders and Clinton.

I’m certain many of you will disagree with this early assessment but, looking back at 2008 and 2012 I think I have a better than average track record on this one. Also if you’re wondering who I think the Republican frontrunner is for the nomination in 2016, it’s not going to be Gov. Chris Christie or any other governor or former governor. As with 2012, the GOP primaries will be large, brutal, and trend further to the right than it normally would. Right now, look for a senator, most likely Rand Paul.

Representative of the Poor

For the past twelve years I have served as an elected Representative of the Poor on the Community Action Advisory Board in the city of San Antonio, Texas. The board, made up of fifteen members, five of whom are elected Representatives of the Poor, advise the city on poverty related issues and provides oversight of the Community Action Programs run by the city’s Department of Community Initiatives. The work is meaningful and as one Congressman once put it in regards to my rather obscure elected position, it is the most important political office in the city that no one has ever heard of.

This is true, I have been through several elections for this position and except for the first couple, my elections have been uncontested. Even in those early elections when there were opponent, very few people have voted. To be honest, I have been term limited from running again, but due to a current lack of interest, I am a holdover for the position.

During the last twelve years, a lot has happened and changes as Community Action in San Antonio and in our nation moves forward. As some may know, Community Action was the only agency targeted for cuts in President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address. This is unfortunate but this program, dating back to President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, has often been the target of cutbacks and elimination.

The role of Community Action is simple, helping low-income families help themselves out of poverty and into self-suffiency. This is done primarily through emergency and transitional assistance. For my part, I have tried to be an voice for the poor in a part of town that often forgets that poverty can and does affect everyone in both small and big ways. I live in and represent the north side of San Antonio, for the most part a part of town economically better off than the rest of town. This has caused my share of occasional frustration as I voice concerns over poverty and current and effective ways to address the issue and improve that quality of life for the entire community I call home. Poverty is not talked about where I live, for many neighbors it doesn’t exist. It in fact, does but that is getting harder to community, even in these tougher economic times as we push forward with our lives out of a deep recession.

This will likely be my last year on the Community Action Advisory Board. In my final year I have taken on the role of Vice-Chairman of the board and will now look for ways to communicate the work of Community Action where I live and in other neighborhoods and communities throughout San Antonio.

May is National Community Action Month

What is National Community Action Month?
National Community Action Month in May was created by the national office of the Community Action Partnership to highlight Community Action Agencies’ role helping low-income families achieve economic security.  Each year, Community Action Agencies serve 20 million people in rural, suburban, and urban communities across the country through a variety of targeted programs, such as Head Start, Weatherization, job training and placement, financial education, housing, energy assistance, and transportation.

During National Community Action Month, Community Action Agencies truly make the Promise of Community Action—to help people and change lives—come alive by hosting events that help put a “face” on the families living in poverty and the dedicated Community Action staff and volunteers who are helping them achieve economic security. Success stories are honored and personal achievements are recognized. Many governors, mayors, and other elected officials proclaim May “Community Action Month” in their states, cities and counties.

Community Action Agencies also use National Community Action Month to call attention to poverty related problems and solutions. As Community Action Agencies are showcasing their programs, they are also giving local residents—many who are unaware of the poverty in their communities—a firsthand look at the struggles low-income families face and how Community Action programs help them.

Celebrating National Community Action Month 2011 Amid Community Action’s “New Realities”

This year’s National Community Action Month theme is:
Community Action 2011: Working for Opportunity and Economic Security in America. This theme was selected prior to Community Action being the sole program singled out for budget cuts during the January 25 State of the Union address.

These “New Realities” also mean that we will have to, unfortunately, try to do a lot more with a lot less—because budgets and resources are being cut while at the same time, demand for services has soared.

The poverty rate is also growing: 2009 Census Bureau figures indicate that nearly 44 million Americans have incomes below the poverty level. And it gets worse: unemployment hovers near 10 percent, one in seven Americans is on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), home mortgage foreclosures have reached epidemic proportions in many states; and home, commercial energy and food costs are up.

Now more than ever, we must show that we are part of a strong network of Community Action Agencies across the country with a unified voice and message: for the last 47 years, we’ve had a proven track record of ongoing effectiveness helping America’s low-income population— seniors; children; military veterans; families; and workers—in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country—achieve economic stability.

We’re proactively responding to our communities’ ever-changing needs—especially during the Great Recession, which brought several new faces to our agency: people who have fallen on hard times and never thought they’d have to ask for assistance. We develop and tailor our programs based on the individuals and families we serve in order to maximize opportunities for them to become economically stable and live a better life.

We need to maintain and enhance funding and resources on the local, state, and national levels for programs like Community Action that are helping low-income residents across the county achieve economic security.

Even as the economy and budgets remains uncertain, Community Action is and always will be committed and dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable citizens.

I am not certain who wrote this memo, it was handed to me by an official with Community Action here in San Antonio. I wanted to post it because much of the work that Community Action does in San Antonio and throughout our nation is not understood or even known by most citizens.