AISD Race: Barksdale Prevails

On the campaign trail

Tamala Barksdale
Tamala Barksdale (Photo by Jana Birchum)

It's pretty much accepted knowledge in politics that no matter how bad the turnout for an election, it's always worse for a run-off. Yet on June 12, not only did Tamala Barks­dale beat out Julie Cowan to become the new at-large Position 9 member of the Austin Independent School District board of trustees, but they both beat accepted wisdom by getting more Austinites interested in the race and their individual candidacies than in the first round.

While overall turnout was low – 9,459 voters, or 2.5% of registered voters – it was still a narrow improvement over the May 8 turnout of 8,962 (2.4%). There was an early- evening scare on election day for Barksdale when Cowan posted a tiny 49-vote lead in early voting results. Yet Barksdale dominated on the day, taking 59% of election day votes to finally close the deal with a 54.5% to 45.5% victory. Drilling down into the numbers, it's clear that both candidates improved from the first round: Cowan surprised expectations by picking up an extra 973 votes; Barksdale took her first-round total and added 1,493. She put the increase down to "good old-fashioned grassroots campaigning. ... I think between the general election and the run-off, the race got more attention from the media, and clearly Julie and I worked really hard to get our folks back out to the polls and get new folks out as well."

Cowan put her gains down to what she learned about campaigning during the first round and suggested that while Barksdale swept the board with endorsements, Cowan gained support as the perceived alternative candidate. More broadly, she added, "More people paid attention, because when it got down to the two of us, it got down to specifics." Now that the election is over, she wished Barksdale good luck and added, "She will do a fine job." As for the improved turnout for the run-offs and what it says about voter interest in AISD, she said, "It still was an abysmal turnout, but it gives us some hope."

Expanding interest in the district will fall under Barksdale's purview as one of AISD's two at-large members and a public relations professional. Admitting that it's no small challenge, she said, "Parents know generally that there's a school board, but the community at large is a little underinformed." Her plan is to continue outgoing trustee Karen Dulaney Smith's outreach to elected officials at the city and county levels. For the district to be involved in broader conversations, she said, "There has to be a presence and face, and I'm prepared to be that."

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Tamala Barksdale, Julie Cowan, Austin ISD, Karen Dulaney Smith, elections

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