Pena, Leal to meet again in Brownsville ISD special election

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Longtime former BISD trustee Minerva M. Pena and challenger Marisa F. Leal will lock horns one more time in a special election May 4 to determine who actually won their November 2020 school board race.

Initially, Leal won the election by one vote. Pena then won the recount by eight votes. The Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees canvassed the result and Pena was sworn in Dec. 9, 2020 to her fourth term on the board.

But it didn’t end there.

Leal sued to overturn the recount, but because of the pandemic, the case didn’t go to trial until Jan 6-7, 2022, in Brownsville’s 107th state District Court. San Patricio County state District Judge Josue Johnson presided because under state law the challenge had to be heard by a judge outside the county where the challenged election took place.

Leal’s attorney Gilberto Hinojosa was able to show by clear and convincing evidence that at least 16 voters had used a warehouse at 225 S. Vermillion Road near the Brownsville airport as their address.

Johnson ruled that the illegal votes made it impossible to determine the election’s true winner and ordered a new election for May 7, 2022.

“So all this time it’s been one delay tactic after another,” Hinojosa said this past November, when the Texas Supreme Court declined to consider Pena’s third appeal, and let stand the trial court’s decision in the case.

The BISD Board of Trustees then declared Pena’s seat vacant and named former teacher Tim Ramirez to fill the post until the May 4 election, when Texas Southmost College and the Port of Brownsville will also elect trustees.

Leal pointed out that the BISD election should have taken place in 2022, and characterized relations between the two women as “cordial.”

Pena said BISD could have allowed her to continue to serve under holdover provisions of the Texas Constitution until the May 4 election, when her old seat on the board will be on the ballot.

“The majority four voted me out,” she said, referring to board president Jessica G. Gonzalez and trustees Eddie Garcia, Daniella Lopez Valdez and Denise Garza.

A sign advertises Minerva M. Pena’s campaign for the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees in the May 4 special election. (Courtesy photo)

“I have no idea why they would do that, but otherwise still I would be sitting in that position,” Pena said.

At the time, board attorney Nick Maddox said BISD was rightly following the Supreme Court’s directive that the lower court’s decision stand.

Both women said they want to serve on the board to help the children of Brownsville get the best education possible and give their teachers everything they need to make sure BISD students succeed at school and in life.

Leal, the operations director for the UPS store on Price Road, recently beat cancer. Now cancer free, she said she feels somewhat gypped out of the first 3 1/2 years of her term, but is ready to serve and to finish what she started.

“People tell me I ought to just give it up. No, I’m not going to give it up. I’m going to finish what I started. I’m invested in the election because one, I’m a product of BISD. Two, I used to work for BISD. I was a para professional for BISD for 15 years, and three, I’m a parent of BISD. My daughter is a freshman at a BISD high school and I’m also wife to a BISD educator. My husband is a 32-year teacher for BISD,” she said.

Leal said she wants to be a unifying influence on the board.

“We’re all in this for the same reason, or you would think for the same reasons, and yet we’re not unified, and that’s the sad part,” she said, adding that she wants to improve the morale in the schools.

“We need to get unified as a whole. We are the best. Our logo says we’re the best. Let’s prove it, let’s unify ourselves,” she said.

Pena is a retired Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who was first elected to the board in 2008.

She said voters should be careful about trying to fix something that’s not broken.

“Unfortunately today’s generation has that mentality. And I ask and I pray to God to have people run for office that are running to serve the position and the people they signed up to serve, and not serve themselves,” she said.

Both women said they are holding meet-and-greet events in an effort to meet as many new voters as possible.

“I’m meeting as many people as I can. The people that voted for me three years ago, I hope they come out and vote again. But then again, I did it by only one vote. I need to meet those people, the ones that didn’t vote for me, and change their minds to vote for me this time around. I’m hoping it’s going to swing my way, but if it doesn’t that’s OK, I’m gonna go at it again in November,” Leal said.

Pena said that, “God willing,” she plans to run again in November.