Analysis of 2023 Cy-Fair ISD Election

Bryan James Henry
17 min readNov 11, 2023

(This essay will be revised with updates from ongoing conversations with voters, activists, and candidates).


The audience for this analysis is the voters, candidates, and activists who are sorely disappointed with the election results in Cy-Fair ISD’s 2023 school board election. My aim is to take a comprehensive look at the strategies and results to speculate about what worked, what didn’t, and what can or should be done differently in 2025. For the next two years, the Cy-Fair ISD board of trustees will have a 6–1 conservative Republican supermajority. Three seats will be up for re-election in 2025, which makes it possible to re-establish another 4–3 pro-public education majority. My intention is to provide commentary with as much transparency and humility as possible about my views, and to summarize in the fairest terms possible what I perceive to be the views of others (without naming names, of course). Again, I am thinking through all this and making it publicly available, not to point fingers or relitigate old disagreements, but to facilitate an honest reflection that can lead to reconciliation between those who must unite in preparation for 2025.

How Do We Win in 2023?

To my knowledge, there were two basic theories about how to win. One theory, which I was part of promoting, was to double-down on the notion that school board races are, in fact, and should remain, in practice, non-partisan. In other words, while three candidates running as conservative Republicans in 2021 were successful, the best approach was not to lean into more partisanship or try to frame the debate as a contest between Republicans and Democrats or conservatives and liberals. With the right candidates, a non-partisan (or bipartisan) campaign that rejected the turn toward partisanship and embraced coalition-building to unite Republican, Independent, and Democratic voters could be effective, both as an electoral strategy and to unite the community. Yes, the GOP had already made school board elections partisan, but perhaps we didn’t have to play the game on their terms yet. Maybe partisanship could even become a liability for them if we highlight its destructiveness for communities in the context of school board races and the governance of public schools.

A second theory assumed that, regardless of how partisan the election became in terms of it being perceived as a contest between Republicans and Democrats, new voters, and especially Democrats, would need to be mobilized to defeat the conservative Republican candidates. From this standpoint, competing for the voters who normally turnout in school board elections, which skews toward the Republicans, would be a losing proposition. Yes, non-partisan candidates, especially those with name recognition in the community and a reputation for being a Republican themselves, can compete for Republican voters, but they won’t necessarily win a majority. Therefore, voters in other parts of the district, preferably that lean Democratic, must be mobilized to have any chance of winning. While this theory does not overtly lean into partisanship by deliberately framing the election as one between Republicans and Democrats, it does assume a partisan electoral strategy: turning out more Democrats is the path to victory. Secondary to the assumption that Democratic voters are needed to win is the assumption that Democratic voters will only vote for candidates who reflect the diversity of the Cy-Fair community.

Analyzing the Theories

Here, I will speak mainly for myself, but also try to summarize alternative perspectives. As someone who founded a non-partisan advocacy group, I obviously favored the coalition-building strategy of the first theory. That being said, an assumption of coalition-building is that you aren’t relying on voters from one political party. I always believed it was important to mobilize Democratic voters who shared others’ concerns about the negative impact of a conservative Republican majority that would promote divisive policies that would be bad for students, staff, and schools. My preference was for candidates who, regardless of their personal political views, could and would compete for voters everywhere across the district. Obviously, there will be differences of opinion about what type of candidate can appeal to certain types of voters, but I was focused on framing the election as being between non-partisan unifiers and partisan dividers. I didn’t personally care who the candidates were but understood from others that there were clearly strong opinions about things like diversity and representation, and the strategic concerns about what type of candidates would mobilize the voters needed to win.

For example, when the ALL4CFISD candidates announced they were running I was ecstatic that such a well-known, well-prepared, and bipartisan slate had formed. The prospect of an all-female slate had historical significance and I appreciated that each candidate brought a different set of personal and professional experiences to the team. Tonia Jaeggi, Julie Hinaman, Leslie Martone, and Frances Ramirez Romero were all excellent candidates. On the other hand, some community stakeholders had serious reservations about the lack of diversity on the slate; specifically, the absence of a candidate from the Black community. Behind-the-scenes discussions took place, none of which I was directly involved in, about whether the ALL4CFISD slate should have a candidate step down to increase its diversity. There are competing narratives about what those discussions looked like and how they were handled. In the end, the ALL4CFISD candidates all chose to continue running. My personal view is that all four of them had the right to continue to do so, but other activists I spoke with were adamant that someone should step down.

The arguments in favor of making the ALL4CFISD slate more diverse ranged from strategic arguments that Black voters would not turnout to vote for a mostly White slate to hyperbolic insinuations that anyone who didn’t think a Black candidate should be added to the ALL4CFISD slate was complicit in “white supremacism.” My personal view, which was communicated to multiple people involved in activism and campaign strategy, was that having a more diverse slate would arguably be strategically beneficial and morally desirable in terms of having diverse representation on the Cy-Fair school board. At the same time, I did not believe it was strategically necessary for an ALL4CFISD candidate to drop for the slate to win. I also didn’t think any of the ALL4CFISD candidates should be pressured into dropping out given how qualified, knowledgeable, and prepared all of them were. It was a tough situation, and I was basically agnostic about it. If someone from ALL4CFISD had dropped out in favor of a Black candidate, then I would have supported that, but I didn’t think it was necessary. A fellow activist told me that my indifference on the issue may be rooted in White privilege, and perhaps they are right and that is something that I need to reflect on.

What I disagreed with then, and still disagree with now, is the notion that Black voters would only vote for a Black candidate and that relying on increased turnout from Democrats was a path to victory. I was told, literally, that the ALL4CFISD slate would lose because they were competing for Republican voters and Black voters wouldn’t support them. While Black voters may be more likely to vote if a Black candidate is on the ballot, I find it offensive to suggest that they won’t vote in their self-interest if given the choice between a pro-public education candidate and far-right extremist. While Democratic voters should be mobilized as part of any coalition, the notion that Republican voters would simply be ignored and conceded to the other side doesn’t make sense to me. My embrace of non-partisan coalition-building was always rooted in the suspicion that there aren’t enough Democratic voters in Cy-Fair to simply rely on them alone to win. School board candidates must court and compete for Republican voters in an area like Cy-Fair.

Throughout these behind-the-scenes developments, I was vocal with anyone I spoke with about the danger of “splitting the vote” if no ALL4CFISD candidate stepped down and a Black candidate ran anyway. The vote I was most concerned about splitting was the area’s Democratic voters. Whatever percentage of the electorate that identified as Democratic, you could assume that they would be one of the main voter blocks torn over how to vote. Some Democrats would think strategically and vote for the ALL4CFISD slate, while other Democrats would prioritize diversity and representation by supporting a Black candidate. As I stated then, and restate now, reasonable people could disagree on the issue. In the end, a well-qualified Black candidate, Dr. Cleveland Lane, Jr., ran against an ALL4CFISD candidate, Tonia Jaeggi, for Position 1. Dr. Lane received endorsements from state representative Jon Rosenthal, former Cy-Fair trustee Dr. John Ogletree, and the Cy-Fair Strong Schools PAC. Lane was promoted in campaign literature along with the other three ALL4CFISD candidates. In a sense, an experiment was taking place. Which theory was correct? Coalition-building with non-partisan candidates or mobilizing Democrats and appealing to Black voters with a Black candidate?

The ALL4CFISD slate certainly had their share of support. Both major teachers’ groups, Cy-Fair AFT and TSTA, endorsed them. They had the support of a well-organized local PAC and the non-partisan Cypress Families for Public Schools, which I helped form. We were hopeful that the coalition we had built to mobilize voters, combined with the quality of the candidates themselves, could win regardless of the presence of other candidates like Dr. Lane or whatever negative campaign tactics the GOP might use. I also wished the activists working on behalf Dr. Lane the best. If they were right about their claim that Lane could win, and help win Positions 2, 3, and 4 in the process, then I would gladly accept that result. I considered Dr. Lane a qualified, pro-public education candidate and all I cared about was having a pro-public education majority on the school board. When CFPS endorsed the ALL4CFISD slate, I personally called Dr. Lane to inform him about the decision and wished him well. From my point of view, it wasn’t clear which theory was right, but I was humble enough to admit to others that I knew my theory might be wrong. I would have been happy to have been proven wrong if it meant having a pro-public education majority.

The Results

So, what happened? Well, a lot.

Position 1

As I suspected, and had worried about to many people, the pro-public education vote was split in Position 1 between Lane and Jaeggi. Much has been said about “vote splitting” and some stakeholders remain committed to the narrative that it isn’t harmful or wasn’t a factor in the 2023 school board election. I disagree and will provide an explanation. I also recognize that “vote splitting” is a complex and nuanced thing to conceptualize, so it is important to understand what the realistic impact is and isn’t. Also, maybe I’m wrong about everything.

As has been pointed out by others, it is incorrect to assume that all of Lane’s votes (roughly 10,000) would have gone to Jaeggi had he not been on the ballot. Why? Because each candidate has their own “pull” in the sense that they, being who they are, attract certain voters and are essentially responsible for bringing them to the polls. This was central to the theory that Black voters would only vote for a Black candidate. In other words, some percentage of Lane voters voted because of Lane, and likely would not have voted at all if he wasn’t on the ballot. What percentage? In my opinion, that is difficult to determine. I would assume that 50% of Lane voters would not have voted without him on the ballot. An activist supporting Lane’s campaign said they thought the number was closer to 70%. Looking at voter turnout by precinct, one could possibly arrive at a good estimate of how many Lane voters turned out because of Lane, but I haven’t done that deep of an analysis.

Let’s just use 50% and 70% as examples. It is correct to assume that some portion of the voters who supported Lane would have voted regardless and would likely have voted for Jaeggi. If that percentage is 50% (5,031 voters), then Jaeggi’s total would have been 26,093 (almost 2,000 more votes than LeCompte). If that percentage is only 30% (3,018 voters), then Jaeggi’s total would have been 24,080 (69 votes less than LeCompte), which is a razor-sharp finish. My takeaway, one could easily argue that the presence of Lane on the ballot split the vote and helped LeCompte win. It could easily be the case that the number of Lane voters who would have voted anyway, and would have voted for Jaeggi, was large enough that Jaeggi would have won Position 1. As for the theory about mobilizing Democratic voters, Lane received half the number of votes that Jaeggi received which to me indicates that relying on Democratic voters alone was a flawed plan.

Position 2

“Vote splitting” also occurred in Position 2, but this time it hurt the GOP-endorsed candidate. The presence of Ayse Indemaio split the conservative vote and took votes away from George Edwards Jr., who underperformed slightly compared to the other three GOP candidates who won. Interestingly, whereas the GOP vote in Position 1 was a plurality, the “combined” conservative vote in Position 2 was a majority. In my opinion, this is likely evidence that a percentage of voters were simply picking names at random and had no knowledge of the partisan identity or policy positions of the candidates. This was likely true in all four races, but the percentage of voters doing so was probably small and I don’t know how one could accurately gauge the number of voters that did this. It simply doesn’t make any logical sense that the GOP candidate would earn roughly 44% in Position 1, but the “combined” conservative vote in Position 2 would earn 54%.

In other words, if GOP support was that strong, then LeCompte would have won with a larger percentage of the vote in Position 1. Another way to guess how many votes may have been diverted from Jaeggi to Lane is to subtract Jaeggi’s total from Hinaman’s. That number is 4,016 votes. In other words, roughly 25,000 voters chose Hinaman (and would have voted regardless of Lane’s presence), but 4,000 of them chose to vote for Lane instead of Jaeggi in Position 1 (further evidence that “vote splitting” likely helped LeCompte win Position 1). As a result of conservative “vote splitting” in Position 2, Hinaman won with a plurality similar to the plurality that LeCompte won by in Position 1. Position 2 is the only race where two known conservatives competed against each other, and the result was a plurality victory by a non-partisan ALL4CFISD candidate. So, arguably, “vote splitting” did play a role in Positions 1 and 2.

Position 3

The results of Position 3 are almost identical to Position 1 with Ray winning with a plurality of roughly 44%. Surprisingly, at least to me, Michelle Fennick received almost the same number of votes as Lane even though her campaign lacked the endorsements, spending, and positive association with the other three ALL4CFISD candidates that Lane’s campaign possessed. However, as a fellow activist reminded me, Dr. Fennick is an alumni of AKA sorority, which possesses immense power to activiate and mobilize voters. So, while it may surprise me that a voter would support Hinaman for Position 2, but not support Leslie Martone for Position 3, this may be further evidence that real coalition-building must be based on the diversity of the community. Similar to the questions raised about Position 1, it is difficult to know how much “pull” Fennick had and how many voters would have voted regardless of her presence on the ballot. In other words, if Fennick wasn’t on the ballot at all, then how many total votes would have been cast in Position 3 and how would her voters have been distributed between Martone and Ray? We can’t know, but Ray beat Martone by 2,374 votes and 9,458 votes were cast for Fennick. The takeaway is that she clearly played a significant role in Position 3. None of this commentary is to suggest that candidates like Dr. Lane and Dr. Fennick did not deserve or earn their votes, it is simply an attempt to discern why voters supported the candidate they did and the lessons the pro-public education community can apply to coalition-building in the future.

Position 4

The last race, Position 4, was the only head-to-head matchup between ALL4CFISD and the GOP. The result was very close, with Kalmbach receiving 51% (28,000 votes) of the total, the only GOP candidate to receive a majority. Kalmbach beat Ramirez Romero by only 1,177 votes and was arguably the least known candidate in the race having skipped two out of three candidate forums hosted within the community. Was Kalmbach’s vote total and majority evidence of an actual conservative Republican majority? If there were actually 28,000 conservative Republican voters committed to Kalmbach’s GOP-endorsed slate, then why did roughly 4,000 of them not vote for the GOP-endorsed candidates in Positions 1, 2, and 3? It doesn’t make sense. To be honest, while I am a Professor of Government with a graduate degree in Political Science, I am not a quantitative data expert so maybe none of my analysis makes sense either!

The Takeaways

What can we learn from trying to analyze these results? I’m not sure! Aren’t you glad you’re reading this? Did “vote splitting” have an impact on the 2023 Cy-Fair ISD school board election? When I look at the results, I see liberal and conservative voters each choosing between two different candidates in Positions 1 and 2, and the “split vote” harming their side. Which voters were conflicted in Position 3? I don’t know. What to make of Position 4? I don’t know. Well, I do know that Frances Ramirez Romero would have been a brilliant trustee. Was my theory about non-partisan coalition-building wrong? Maybe. Would the ALL4CFISD slate have received a higher percentage of the vote or won the election had it been more diverse and included a candidate like Lane? I think that’s difficult to determine due to the presence of other Black candidates in Positions 2 and 3, and the fact that each ALL4CFISD candidate has their own “pull.” For example, how would the absence of Jaeggi from the ALL4CFISD slate have hurt the slate? Would the benefit of Lane have outweighed the loss of Jaeggi or another candidate? Who knows? Was the theory about mobilizing Democratic and minority voters, while ignoring Republican and White voters wrong? I would argue that, yes, it was proven wrong. At least in this election, there weren’t enough Democrats or minority voters to win. Republican and White voters were needed too. That doesn’t mean, as one activist insisted, that more Democrats and minority voters couldn’t have been mobilized in this election. There was simply a lack of resources to do so.

In this sense, to me, coalition-building is still imperative, which means resisting a Republican vs. Democrat narrative still seems necessary. The framework must be non-partisan vs. partisan, or pro-public education vs. extremist, or bipartisan vs. far-right. Is coalition-building more effective when it reflects the diversity of the community and unites all stakeholders? For me, that is now an unqualified yes. This brings me back to the topic of “vote splitting.” Regardless of the “vote splitting” that took place during the election as voters chose between Lane and Jaeggi in Position 1, the truth is that the pro-public education community “split” its vote before the voting even started by failing to identify a common set of candidates that united all pro-public education voters. How and why that failure occurred, or who is to “blame,” is not a constructive thing to litigate after the fact. Mistakes were made. Which theory was right, then? For me, the answer is maybe both. Diversity, especially if it is required for unity, is crucial. Coalition-building, especially if it is required for winning, is imperative. Is “vote splitting” bad? Yes. Everyone who supports public education, or who is opposed to far-right extremists, must support the same candidates. In 2025, the pro-public education community must unify behind the same candidates. To do that, all stakeholders must have open, honest, and frequent dialogue about their priorities and preferences. A process to identify candidates that includes all stakeholders must take place early.

Can We Win in 2025?

Who knows? We can only control what we can control. Even if the pro-public education community comes together and identifies a group of candidates that everyone can unite behind, the fact is that the next school board race will likely have more than two candidates running in each race. In other words, even if we don’t split our vote, the presence of other candidates is always a possibility that will, in effect, split the vote in ways that could harm our chances. Even if we had a straightforward face-off between two candidates in each race, we have no control over the money that will be spent by the GOP stoking fear and spreading lies. I have heard some say that this campaign was too nice, and that the GOP benefitted from playing dirty with negative campaign tactics. The suggestion being that we should play dirty too and highlight the other side’s extremism. I’m not saying that is incorrect. Perhaps the new conservative Republican supermajority will provide us with plenty of material over the next two years to use against them in 2025. Negative attacks have their place, but we should always promote what we stand for and not rely on what we are against to mobilize voters. Time will tell what type of messaging makes the most sense in the next school board election.

Lastly, electoral design and processes shouldn’t be ignored either. If the Texas legislature does make school board elections partisan, then that would drastically change strategy. I think it would be reasonable, like in certain presidential or congressional primaries, to debate what makes the most sense: trying to nominate moderate Republicans who are likely win in a conservative-learning area, or try to maximize Democratic turnout to beat whatever Republican gets nominated. The fact that Cy-Fair ISD continues to elect school board trustees at-large will provide a structural advantage for those who stay united, which is often a passionate minority faction. In the absence of a run-off election, it is pretty easy, as we just saw, for a minority faction to win lots of seats with a plurality of votes. If Cy-Fair ISD had individual districts, then it would be far easier to elect pro-public education candidates, win “partisan” type contests, and secure diverse representation on the board. With at-large district-wide elections, it will always remain possible for an organized minority faction of White voters to elect a majority of White trustees in a district that is over 75% non-White. If we can’t change the rules, then we must learn to win with the rules that exist. That will require coalition-building across party lines and mobilizing voters across the entire district of every race and ethnicity.

As the founder and vice president of Cypress Families for Public Schools, it has been an exhausting pleasure to organize and advocate on behalf of the Cy-Fair community the last two years. While I am disappointed about the election results, I am still very proud of the ALL4CFISD candidates and campaign. I am very proud of the work that CFPS has done over the last two years to unite and mobilize the Cy-Fair community. I look forward to more activism and coalition-building as we navigate whatever changes are coming to Cy-Fair ISD.