Historically, Texas has a low voter turnout rate, and the primary races can result in even lower-than-average voter participation.

Raise Your Hand Texas believes public schools are at the center of democracy, and Texas’ future depends on how well students are educated. For this reason, it’s crucial that Houston voters elect leaders who support investing in the 5.5 million public school students who are the future of Texas.

Senior Director of Advocacy Libby Cohen said civic engagement is a year-round process, and primary elections are a great opportunity for people who care about public education issues to be involved in decision-making processes.

“Being engaged and involved in election season is just as important as being involved when laws are being written and passed,” Cohen said. “It is also important for voters to know Texas has what are called open primaries, which means you decide whether you want to vote in the republican primary or democratic primary. Anyone can vote for any candidate.”

Public education candidate forums

To help local voters understand the candidates’ platforms, Raise Your Hand Texas has created the largest series of single-issue candidate forums in the state. Every candidate is invited to share their thoughts and opinions on a standardized set of public education questions, which ensures all candidates are being treated fairly. In addition, Raise Your Hand Texas also films the forums and posts the unedited footage online for local constituents who weren’t able to attend the free events.

Cohen said the forums are important for voters and candidates because they allow voters to hear about the issues that shape their local public schools and what potential representatives plan to do.

Natalia Gómez Ramback, Senior Regional Advocacy Director for Houston, said teachers play a particularly important role at candidate forums because they can share their firsthand experience of seeing how public education policies play out in the classroom.

“Teachers know the importance of public education, and are keen not only on the actual act of civic engagement and voting, but are also ready to share their current classroom experiences,” Ramback said. “When teachers attend candidate forums, they are listening for the differences between candidates, and if the candidates truly understand the reality of the situation in public education.”

Pearland forum

This election cycle in Pearland, there is one public education candidate forum taking place for the open seat in House District 29, which covers the northern and eastern portions of Brazoria County. There are four candidates running for a state legislator position in the Texas House of Representatives, three Republicans and one Democrat.

Jackson Griffon, Regional Advocacy Director for East Houston and the Gulf Coast, noted this race is particularly important because Representative Ed Thompson is vacating his seat.

“Representative Thompson has been a champion for public education in the past, and this candidate forum and election is critical for Pearland,” Griffon said. “We’re losing a state representative who's been heavily involved in education policy discussions throughout his tenure. Rep. Thompson will be replaced by somebody who, based on the names on this list, has never been a state representative before. There's a learning curve that comes with that.”

Watch the Pearland forum here.

Northwest Houston forum

In House District 139, which covers Northwest Houston, there are five candidates running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jarvis Johnson. Rep. Johnson is now running to replace recently elected Houston mayor John Whitmire in Senate District 15.

Ramback said Rep. Johnson was very supportive of public education and the things that affect not only public schools, but teachers and children. The Northwest Houston forum will give candidates the chance to share their thoughts on public education and allow the public to make an informed decision.

“​​Public education is always on the ballot,” Ramback said. “It's the biggest line item in the state budget, and it's important for us to ensure we're allowing all candidates the opportunity to share their beliefs, perspectives, and positions on public education issues that will shape the next generation of Texas.”

Watch the Northwest Houston forum here.

Cohen said for many House races in Texas, the primary is the sole opportunity to choose between contending candidates because candidates from only one party file for the seat. If no one from the opposing party chooses to file, then whoever wins the primary election also wins the general election in the fall by default.

By inviting all candidates to participate in these forums, Raise Your Hand Texas affirms the nonpartisan aspect of the organization.

“It’s worth reminding people to think about the entirety of their ballot and spend some time understanding where there are choices,” Cohen said. “Voters may want to vote in the party primary where they can make the most meaningful choices, and where they think their input will have the most impact.”

Here are four easy steps to make sure you’re ready to vote:
  • Register: View your voter registration status, election rules, and official state website, and make sure you’re registered to vote
  • Research: See who is running where you live. Learn more about the candidates with information collected by BallotReady.
  • Plan: Make your voting plan and commit to voting with Raise Your Hand Texas’ digital pledge card.
  • Vote!
Early primary voting begins Feb. 20 and ends March 1. On March 5, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for primary election day voting. Click here to watch candidate forum videos for the 2024 primaries. Learn more about Raise Your Hand Texas initiatives at www.raiseyourhandtexas.org.

The above story was produced by Senior Multi Platform Journalist Summer El-Shahawy with Community Impact's Storytelling team with information solely provided by the local business as part of its "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team.