Contentious Edinburg school board election poised for change

One of the county’s most vitriolic school board elections is leaning towards a defeat for the incumbent based on results released Tuesday.

Results are unofficial as 32 precincts had not reported results as of midnight.

Current Edinburg CISD Board Secretary and Place 4 incumbent Robert Peña Jr. was behind in votes, as of press time Tuesday, to challenger Louie “Luis” Alamia after a lively and often negative campaign.

Alamia had received 17,199 votes, or 53.3%, while Peña came up with 15,072 ballots, or 46.7%.

Late Tuesday evening Alamia said he was still crossing his fingers for a positive outcome.

“So far it looks good and we’re just praying for a positive result with a victory at the end,” he said.

Alamia said his willingness to listen and his commitment to making change for the better played into the show of support for him at the polls.

“I think our community’s ready for change, ready for a new direction in leadership,” he said.

Appointing a permanent superintendent would be among Alamia’s chief concerns as a trustee, Alamia said Tuesday afternoon. Gilbert Garza Jr. has served as interim superintendent at the district for over the year.

“A district of this size — not just here in the Valley, but in the whole nation — we don’t have an established leader, so one of my main goals is to make sure we hire somebody full time to lead our district and also to hold us, the board members, accountable on certain decisions that we make as a board,” he said.

Peña ran on a platform that pledged to promote safety of employees and personnel with regards to COVID-19, facility upgrades and an adjustment to testing standards because of the pandemic and online learning.

“I want to lobby in the spring for the state to reconsider, maybe a lobby for this year, and not put that pressure on our students to attempt to pass these state mandated exams because of the whole virtual learning situation,” he said.

Alamia and Peña ran a particularly bitter campaign.

A full page ad in The Monitor criticized Peña for a joke he made over the summer calling a fellow board member “special ed.” that Peña later apologized for. Circulars mailed to Edinburg residents paid for by “Women Against Louie” criticized Alamia for an alleged criminal history.

Both candidates acknowledged the intensity of the contest Tuesday.

“The race that we had was very contested…” Alamia said.

Peña criticized the ad attacking him.

“The negativity, unfortunately, also stems from the party that they’re associated with and that party leads back to the city, and that’s where the basis of this negativity has been brought upon us and our school district and it’s unfortunate that they’re doing that,” he said.

Despite that intensity, the race ended in more of a fizzle than a bang.

Alamia, who was campaigning at South Middle School, said the polling site had been steadily calm Tuesday.

“It all depends on where you live, which place is closer to your home, to where you work,” he said.

Peña, who was at Canterbury Elementary School Tuesday afternoon, noticed that poll activity was much slower than in 2019.

“Over in some locations it was a little slower, which I think meant more voters came out and voted during the early vote,” he said.

There were, however, voters coming to the polls Tuesday, including Marjorie Hinojosa, 64.

Hinojosa used a pair of canes to walk to South Middle School, stopping to rest briefly in the school’s parking lot. Her family’s car had broken down, but she was still determined to vote.

“It’s a privilege and a freedom,” she said.

Hinojosa wasn’t too familiar with the school board race and wasn’t too sure who she’d vote for — she no longer had kids in school and had spent her time studying city, state and federal elections.

“But I still care about what happens in the schools,” she said.

Other district incumbents had a solid lead in their races as of midnight.

Incumbent Place 6 candidate Carmen Gonzalez had garnered 18,254 votes, 57.55%, to her opponent Ramiro Guerra’s 13,467 votes.

Place 7 incumbent Miguel “Mike” Farias had won 56.66% of the ballots cast with 17,801 votes in his favor compared to his opponent John J. Rodriguez’s 13,614 votes.