HD-17: The Dark Secrets of Latreese Cooke

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Just this past Wednesday we began looking at the enigmatic HD-17 race. Because I knew little to nothing about the race other than what I could find online and in old press clippings, I began doing some research on what is arguably is the must hold Democratic seat of 2008.

As one Democratic consultant put it, If Democrats are to have any chance of taking back the Texas House this cycle, we must hold HD 17.  A loss in this rural/exurban swing district would set us back dramatically.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, two Democratic candidates are facing each other in the primary – Donnie Dippel and Latreese Cooke.

Dippel, to be sure, is not a perfect candidate.  Some will certainly argue that Dippel's Democratic credentials could use some polishing.  Okay, so he was hired to work at the Texas Department of Agriculture by Jim Hightower, but he also worked for Susan Combs and Rick Perry.  And Dippel has a history of Republican primary voting – something that is sure to touch off the ongoing Democratic-purity vs. welcoming-new-people-to-our-party debate it seems like we're always having here at BOR and one I sometimes contribute to.

But Dippel is clearly qualified for the job.  He ended his career at the Ag Department as an Assistant Commissioner, and has broad public policy experience.  It also appears that he would make a strong general election opponent to Republican Tim Kleinschmidt.  The Dippels have deep roots in the district, and are very active in their community.  And Dippel's position on the Fayette County Farm Bureau Board ought to give him a leg-up on that key endorsement in this rural district.

Other than an eclectic voting history in a fair conservative, rural part of Texas, Dippel seems to right on most every major issue. A major example is TSTA endorsed Dippel in his race to be the nominee.

Looking into Latreese Cooke things got interesting quickly.  In fact, during that same TSTA endorsement meeting, according to sources, Cooke announced she was pro-voucher.  This of course made me look even more into Cooke and her background.

As one commenter pointed out, Latreese Cooke operates a non-profit called Minorities for Equality in Education, Equality, Liberty and Justice (MEEELJ).  MEEELJ “serves at-risk and formerly incarcerated persons in Bastrop and Caldwell Counties, Del Valle and portions of Eastern Travis County.”  

In 2007, MEEELJ honored former state representative Ron Wilson at “Yesterfest” in Bastrop.  At the time, Cooke wrote:

“Ron Wilson served 27 years as a Texas State Representative serving on numerous committees and being responsible for quite a number of significant legislation striving always to advance minority interests. His participation as one of the few Democrats who supported the Republican redistricting plan in order to provide an opportunity for more minority representation in the government cost him in the primary. At the time of his resignation, Mr. Wilson ranked 5th in seniority of 150 legislators. In 1997, Texas Monthly magazine named Ron Wilson 'one of the top 10 legislators' and portrayed him as 'revolutionary'.  Thank you Latreese Cooke, Executive Director of MEEELJ for inviting him.”

A source in the district informed of this passage and it appears it has now been removed from the website in the past week.  This lead me to wonder what else Cooke may be hiding.

The answers below the fold may shock you.  None of this material is meant to say Cooke isn't a good hearted or even nice person.  However, it appears Latreese Cooke has a long criminal record.

According to documents provided to BOR, Latreese Cooke was arrested six times in Bastrop County for Theft by Check between 1985 and 2000.  Over the years, Cooke has had a number of warrants issued for her arrest, she has been sentenced to probation at least twice and in 2000, Cooke served 90 days in the Bastrop County Jail.

Latreese Cooke has failed to pay her property taxes.

Latreese and Howard Cooke own two lots in Bastrop County.  The lots are located at “Tahitian Village, Unit 1, Block 19, Lots 500 and 501.”

The Cookes were sued by Bastrop County on 11/30/07 for $3,335.81 in unpaid taxes, plus penalties, fees, interest, etc.  The Cookes did not pay property taxes on lots 500 and 501 in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.  

Latreese Cooke was married to two men at the same time. According to documents:

Latreese De Santis (her maiden name) and Eric Tabb were married on July 10, 1986.  Latreese sued for divorce on February 11, 1992.  At that time, Cooke (then Tabb) requested that her name be changed to Latreese Ann De Santis.

On 09/05/97 Cooke and Howard Bernard Cooke filed a Declaration and Registration of Informal Marriage in Bastrop County.  Latreese and Howard swore that they met the requirements for an informal marriage since July 12, 1987.  They also swore that since that date, neither had “been married to any other person.”

From the period of July 12, 1987 to February 11, 1992, Latreese Cooke was legally married to Eric Tabb while at the same time presenting herself as married to Howard Cooke.

Latreese Cooke does not meet the residency requirements to serve as state representative for District 17.

It appears Ms. Cooke was not a resident of HD 17 one year prior to the November 2008 general election.  Here's why:

Gustavo Torres sued Latreese Cooke and Khalif Muhammed on October 31, 2007, for failure to pay rent on the home they leased from him located in Del Valle – in Travis County, outside of HD 17.

Latreese Cooke was served in person on August 14, 2007, in that suit at 11704 Morning View, Del Valle, Texas 78617.  

Latreese Cooke filed a “Defendant's Original Answer” in that suit on August 29, 2007.  Cooke signed as “Latreese Muhammad” and listed 11704 Morning View, Del Valle, Texas, 78617 as her address.  She filed in Travis County small claims court.

Final judgment in that case was made on November 14, 2007.  At that time, Gustavo Torres was awarded immediate possession of the premises at 11704 Morning View, $6,500 in unpaid rent and $1,652 in attorney's fees.  Until that time, there is no evidence that Latreese Cooke and Khalif Muhammed (Howard Cooke) vacated the home at 11704 Morning View.  That means that on November 4, 2007 – one year from the 2008 general election – Latreese Cooke resided in Travis County.

There is further evidence that Cooke actually resides in Del Valle, in Travis County.

The Del Valle Independent School District confirms that Quione Bernard Cooke, LC's son, was enrolled in Del Valle High School on August 16, 2005 and graduated on May 25, 2006.  Samirrah Ann Cooke, LC's daughter, enrolled in Del Valle High School August 16, 2006 and was enrolled at DVHS as of January 8, 2008.

The official minutes of the December 12, 2006 Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees meeting show Latreese Cooke, mother of Samirrah Cooke, attended the meeting and spoke at the public forum.

Now why are we bringing this up?  In 2006 Robby Cook, the incumbent, beat Tim Kleinschmidt by less than 500 votes.  If Cooke is our Democratic nominee, she will be destroyed by the Republican noise machine, and we as Democrats must field the candidates that not only represent our values, but also give us the best chance to win.  Sadly, Latreese Cooke is not that candidate.

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  1. Great Work
    So it looks like there is really only one candidate in HD-17.

    As for Republican primary voting, while this is something that I have never been able to bring myself to do, there are lots of Democrats who do it out here in the less metropolitan, more conservative stretches of the state.  Usually this is done because there are not a lot of Ds on the ballot and because when faced with the choice between conservative and down right fascist most people will try to keep the fascist out of the general election. Really, those of you who live in place like Austin have little idea how bad it can be.  I would not hold voting in a Republican primary against a Democratic candidate in a rural district.

    • Michael McPhail on

      I agree with Hugh (for once)
      Irving faced a similar problem after the GOP sweep in '94.  The Democratic presence in town just vanished.  And we were in Dallas County!

      A staggering number of Hispanic homeowners started voting the Republican primary.  The entire city council and school board became filled with people who were members of the local Republican Club.  It was horrible.

      Thankfully, Shrub's lousy performance as President began turning the tide.  Following Linda Harper-Brown's ascension to HD 105 and the resulting hard right turn in the local Republican Club, scores of prominent local Republicans openly call themselves independents or have even quietly announced their intention to vote in the 2008 Democratic primary.

      If we refused to back anyone who ever voted in the GOP primary (or even those who regularly voted in the GOP primary several years ago) we would lock out the entire power structure in Irving.  We are unwilling to throw away that much support (and that many future Democratic candidates).

      Granted, the newcomers may well wind up being more conservative than the old timers on some issues.  Defeat is the bitter fruit of purity; the sweet taste of victory grows from compromise and cooperation.

  2. Whoa.
    This is compelling stuff.  

    Why would someone with that kind of stuff on his or her record even consider running?  You have to know that it'll get dug up at the first opportunity.

    I hope the Democrats in HD-17 understand how important they are, and that they do the right thing to hold onto this seat.

  3. Shameful
    This is shameful and disturbing.  Check fraud, property tax evasion, and she doesn't even live in the district?  Latreese Cooke should remove herself from this race, just out of respect for the voters of HD 117.

  4. Mark Littlefield on

    I thought residency was one year from talking office.  If she were to win (not likely it appears), she would be sworn in January 2 or 3, 2009.  She would need the one year to go back to January 2, 2008.  

    • In Texas, Residency Dates from Election Day
      You must meet the residency requirements on election day per Article III, Section 7, Texas Constitution:

      No person shall be a Representative, unless he be a citizen of the United States, and, at the time of his election, a qualified voter of this State, and shall have been a resident of this State two years next preceding his election, the last year thereof a resident of the district for which he shall be chosen, and shall have attained the age of twenty-one years. (emphasis added)

  5. oh I love this!

    so who is latreese married to at this point?

    howard cooke? or khalif muhammed? how does she keep it all straight?

    but I'm loving this, really.

    countdown begins … now … to predict how quickly she offers up the standard political defense: “youthful indiscretions! and anyway, I found jesus.”


  6. Republican Redistricting Helping Minorities?
    His participation as one of the few Democrats who supported the Republican redistricting plan in order to provide an opportunity for more minority representation in the government cost him in the primary.

    Republican redistricting helping minorities?  WTF is that about?  Seriously, does anyone know how someone can remotely make this case?  DeLay's map removed a minority district from DFW.

    • Minority Districts
      Since when did former Congressman Martin Frost become a minority and current Congressman Al Green did not?

      The map that prevailed removed a pseudo fake wannabe minority for a flesh and blood African-American.

      That is how “someone can make the case” WTF yourself.

      • Wrong Part of the State
        Since when did former Congressman Martin Frost become a minority and current Congressman Al Green did not?

        Thanks for supplying the logic.  Here is my understanding of it.  The original map had two minority districts CD 24 and 25 that had absolutely no overlapping region.  But, they were both represented by white Democrats, Chris Bell and Martin Frost.  They essentially converted CD 25 to an even stronger minority district, which is now CD 9 and represented by African-American Al Green.  They  completely eliminated anything resembling CD 24, spreading the minorities accross 4 different anglo suburban districts.  Is that the logic?  If so, it seems to be based upon the premise that the representative's race and ethnicity matters, as opposed the makeup of the district.  But then, how do the map makers know the representative's race and ethnicity while drawing the map?  For instance, how did they know that Al Green would beat Chris Bell?  Or, how did they know that Ron Kirk wasn't going to run against Martin Frost in 2004?

        • LOGIC
          The difference in the two districts is that the eventual Houston district was drawn with a sizeable black population. That is why your hero Chris Bell lost.

          Frost's district did not have the same black voter age population, hence it was difficult if not impossible for an African-American to win it, even one as acceptable to you as Ron Kirk.

          No one knew if either Al Green or another African-American could win the old seats but the new Houston seat was definitely winnable.

          Frost's old district would not have elected a minority. He did a agreat job while Dems were in power of diluting the black and brown vote so that only he could be elected.

          Don't take my word for it ask Congressman Eddie Bernice Johnson.

          Your misguided, condescending and plantation like analysis is exactly why minorities should have the chance to elect their own from districts where they make up the overwhelming voter age population.  

  7. Garnet Coleman
    You should also take a look at your hero Garnet Coleman since you are scrutinizing criminal records.

    His criminal record is a matter of public record, mug shot and all. Why don't you castigate him?

    Oh I forgot this is about, “He may be a criminal but he is our criminal.”

    • Dear D. Davenport:
      Two thoughts:

      1) Few members of the legislature can match Rep. Coleman's work ethic and voting record on key issues we as Democrats value.  Your off-topic and totally irrelevant attack on him betrays your true loyalties and motives.

      2) I think it's interesting that the only person willing to defend Latreese Cooke in this thread has pretty much spent his time on BOR trolling for Sylvester Turner and Tom Craddick (I looked through your past comments).  Many people have expressed concern that Cooke's ties to Ron Wilson and her pro-voucher stand raise serious questions about how and why she got into this race, and whether she truly has the best interests of the Democratic Party and the voters of HD 17 in mind.  You're not exactly helping your candidates' cause.

      • CMistress
        Garnet Coleman is a CRIMINAL. He has a CRIMINAL RECORD. He beat up an educator at his child's school in 2001 and plead guilty to a CRIMINAL offense.

        You can excuse it all you want but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and assaults like a duck then more than likely it's Garnet Coleman your favorite duck.

        Riddle me this. Is this the kind of politician you want your child to emulate. Is this truly one of the shining examples of your democratic party.

        How dare you criticize Ms. Torry! What A HYPOCRITE you are.

        How about that other great hero of yours Borris Miles? What a pair.

        By supporting individuals like these you make a mockery of the Democratic Party. The term Neo-Carpetbagger comes to mind.

  8. DFW minority district
    You are admittedly not a minority so let me attempt to explain it so you can understand. Neither the African-Americans in Dallas nor Fort Worth wanted to share one congressional district.

    Eventually a joining of the two communities will be inevitable.

    And by the way none of the list of individuals you mentioned had a ghost of a chance against Frost and his multimillion dollar warchest.

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