Voters will decide in a June 18 runoff whether Dustin Marshall or Mita Havlick will represent them on the Dallas ISD school board. Both candidates are working to remind voters to return to the polls, and also are courting voters who supported Suzanne Smith in the May 9 election.
Smith, who was knocked out of the race by garnering 43 fewer votes than Havlick, opted to remain neutral and not endorse either candidate in the runoff. In a twist, however, Marshall endorsed Smith, or rather, the action plan she laid out for DISD’s District 2 during her campaign.
Marshall says he and Smith see eye to eye on issues such as pre-k, social and emotional health, and parental engagement, and she “did a nice job capturing those ideas graphically.”
“It was a natural extension for me to pick that up,” he says.
His hope is that voters will “recognize that I’m a lot more similar to Suzanne from a policy perspective than Mita is,” particularly on issues such as the Teacher Excellence Initiative, which both Marshall and Smith support and Havlick has come out against in its current implementation.
Havlick’s stance on TEI, however, is one of the reasons teacher group NEA-Dallas endorsed her in the runoff after endorsing Smith in the general election. Havlick, like Marshall, believes “it is critically important that Suzanne’s voters choose me in the runoff” and despite Marshall’s alignment with Smith on the action plan, hopes that “Suzanne’s voters realize the ideals she has for the district and her vision align much closer to mine than Dustin’s.”
Smith says she will have to decide for herself whom to vote for, but doesn’t think her all of her voters will necessarily agree with her decision.
“The voter who was attracted to me is an independent thinker. Some people are going to be attracted to Mita and some to Dustin based on their strengths,” she says. “The voters will ultimately figure out who’s going to best represent them.”
Havlick cites her passionate volunteer base as one of her strengths, and she capitalized on that with a block party last weekend in Lakewood to remind people to head to the polls this week for early voting. Havlick says she has 10 people in her cabinet and 160 volunteers — “and these are active volunteers,” she emphasizes.
“We’ve never paid anyone to do any walking, canvassing, polling,” Havlick says. “These are people who are parents and teachers who want to see the school district move forward.”
Because Havlick entered the race well after Marshall and Smith, she felt her biggest hindrance during the election was time to communicate her message. Calling herself the “parent’s choice for DISD” and touting her status as the only candidate with children who attend DISD schools led some to see her as a one-issue candidate.
“That is definitely a delineation,” Havlick says, and “an easy thing to fall back on, but what people have understood, especially after getting to know me, is the fact that being a parent with kids in public school is my motivation and not my sole qualification.”
Marshall also has worked during the runoff campaign to try to change perceptions of him that pervaded before the election.
“People who spend time with me one on one understand my motivations are not political in nature,” he says. “They get from talking to me and hearing my back story that I’m really just trying to help some kids here.”
He’s received feedback, however, that his message was getting lost in translation via his mailers and social media strategy. That’s why a recent mailer, instead of lauding his many endorsements and political connections, took a softer tack, conveying his own educational story and family history. He hopes this will make a personal connection with voters whom he can’t personally reach.
Early voting for the District 2 race lasts until Tuesday, June 14 at several locations, including Marsh Lane Baptist Church and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in our neighborhood. Election Day is the Saturday before Father’s Day, June 18.