So much for boring Austin Community College elections. On Sept. 1, employee union ACC AFT met with all 12 candidates running for the four open seats on the ACC board of trustees. Normally these are low-key, verging on tedious affairs, providing a limited first look at those running for office. So it was for three of the four races, but not in Place 9, the seat unexpectedly vacated by 22-year incumbent Allen Kaplan.
After the normal introductions from the four candidates – businessman Jeremy Story, ACC student and staffer Julie Ann Nitsch, former Cedar Park Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Fuller, and current Place 6 holder Guadalupe "Lupe" Sosa – the audience questions began, and an icy chill descended. Former ACC AFT president Marshall Bennett told Story that he admired him for having the bravery to turn up, but that was where the compliments ended. Bennett rounded on Story for his leadership role at Campus Renewal, an evangelical group pledged to getting religion into higher education, and hammered him on issues such as his commitment to abstinence sex education.
Tempers truly flared with the final question: Which presidential hopeful is each candidate voting for? Unsurprisingly, most stated Hillary Clinton, except for Fuller and Place 5's Nicole Eversmann (both going for Libertarian Gary Johnson), and Place 4's George Robinson (who attempted levity when he suggested Bart Simpson and Hillary Clinton). Robinson's response subtly pointed out that querying party affiliation in nonpartisan races is normally off-limits. But Story outright condemned the question as wholly inappropriate – winning back a little of the political moral high ground he had ceded all evening.
Ultimately, the purpose of the evening was for ACC AFT to make endorsement recommendations to the Austin Central Labor Council, meaning the winners will effectively sweep all union support in the area. In Place 4, the union backed lawyer and former Obama for America regional director Sean Hassan. In Place 5, the nod went to former Texas Senate staffer Anthony Schoggins. There was little surprise in Place 6, with former Capital Area Workforce Development Board chair Nora de Hoyos Comstock getting the ACC AFT seal of approval.
However, leave it to Place 9 to continue to provide drama: Part of Comstock's appeal is that she is seen as hand-picked by Sosa to fill her old position while Sosa switches seats. Yet the board veteran had one of the evening's weakest showings. On several occasions she failed to answer "yes/no" raise-your-hand style questions to the whole panel and had to be further prompted. Even worse, she tried to defend the board's decision to grant ACC President Richard Rhodes a 5% raise, rather than the 3% earned by the rest of staff. Her explanation that Rhodes had earned it by doing a great job (with the implication that other employees had done a not-so-great job) did not sit well with the attending crowd, which was mainly ACC staff. So the union sent the word to the CLC they were backing Nitsch instead.
See more at austinchronicle.com/elections.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story referred to Jeremy Story's commitment to "abstinence-only sex education," when it should have read "abstinence sex education." We regret the error.
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