State sues Huffman ISD for Electioneering

Paxton alleges Superintendent and Board tried to influence election illegally

By David Taylor
Managing editor

Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against Huffman ISD for alleged electioneering accusing Superintendent Dr. Benny Soileau of using state resources to influence political races. The board was also included in the suit.

Paxton alleges during a school meeting at Hargrave High School, Soileau instructed faculty to vote for 16 specific politicians who supported certain policies, namely against vouchers. The suit also alleges when school staff asked for a list of those endorsed politicians they had been told to vote for, Soileau said a Huffman ISD administrator would distribute it.

The district disputes many of the charges alleged in the suit.

“Huffman ISD has been notified of a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on March 4, 2024, alleging that Superintendent Soileau engaged in improper electioneering during a February 2024 staff meeting,” a statement from the district read.

According to the district, the alleged comments related to the March 5, 2024, Primary Election.

“The district disagrees with multiple aspects of the lawsuit and has authorized its attorneys to explore its legal options, and to communicate with the Attorney General’s office on its behalf. Due to the pending nature of the litigation, the district has no further comment at this time,” the statement said.

Huffman ISD was among seven districts Paxton targeted with electioneering lawsuits prior to the Primary. Other districts involved include Castleberry, Frisco, Denton, Aledo, and Denison ISDs.

In a statement from Paxton’s office, “such actions directly violated the Texas Election Code’s prohibition against the use of ‘state or local funds or other resources of the district to electioneer for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.’”

According to the Attorney General, Soileau was meeting with Hargrave High School administration, faculty, and staff in the cafeteria when he referenced 21 legislators following a question by a staff member in the audience. The original intent and focus of the meeting were transparency, informing them of the current financial situation and how they had arrived at that place. The question was asked referencing school vouchers and Soileau discussed the legislators who had supported public school finance during the past special session.

They were originally called the Raney 21 because, according to the AG, the representative that carried the bill that stripped the vouchers out of that portion of HB3 in the House was named Raney.

The suit alleges that Soileau said, “We killed the vouchers, but we also had to sacrifice the money that was in that bill that was coming to public education.”

Those same 21 were facing election in the March primaries, Soileau said, they had a challenger put up against them.

“Five of those 21 are retiring, they’re not coming back. They’re not even running,” he said.

“And we know that if we don’t show up and support those 21… Let me back up a little bit. Five of those 21 are retiring… They’re not even running. So now we’re down to 16. And they’re calling them Sweet 16. And if we don’t support those 16 representatives in the upcoming election, we roll into the next session almost assured that we’re going to face a universal voucher bill that will change the face of public education for years to come.”

Soileau continued the discussion where the money would come from for vouchers.

“It comes from the same pot of money that we get ours from,” he told the staff. He then encouraged the importance of showing up for polls and supporting “those 16 individuals that have supported us.”

Then he encouraged the staff to show up at the polls and “show them that we’re worth paying attention to.”

It’s important to note that none of the staff lived in the areas where any of the 16 were being challenged and couldn’t vote for them even if they wanted to.

Staff member Grace Ann asked, “How do we get the list of those 16 legislators?”

“We’ll get those for you. Mandy [believed to be a reference to Amanda Fortenberry, the Huffman ISD Director of Communications] can you help us with that? Get those 16 individuals, the Sweet 16, those names out to our staff.”

The AG also said in the suit that the communication also appeared in written form on the internet through X.com (formerly Twitter).

The Star-Courier has requested copies of any receipts, papers, documents, or emails from the Attorney General’s office that would have been produced by Soileau or his staff but has not received any communication at the time of this story.

The Attorney General doesn’t even have the power to prosecute criminal charges against the district or anyone else for that matter, according to Texas v. Stephens, No. PD-1033-20 (Tex. Crim. App. Dec. 15, 2021). The court noted in Texas v. Stephens that the Texas constitution granted prosecutorial authority to county and district attorneys.

Paxton did use his office to file a Temporary Restraining Order.

Negotiations continue with the AG’s office and attorneys from the district, and there’s more to follow.

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