Anyone who thinks running an election is just about, well, running an election, just hasn’t run an election.
Just ask Diane Trautman, who recently resigned for health reasons as Harris County Clerk.
“The Harris County Clerk is the chief election official,” she said, “but the biggest stress comes from the unknowns when you’re running an election.”
For Dr. Trautman, the unknown occurred her first time running an election when a couple crashed their car into a polling location.
“Luckily, no one was hurt, but you have to act fast to relocate the polling place,” she said. “Another time, a water main broke downtown and flooded five different polling locations.”
Less stressful for Trautman were the times the staff had to remove live animals, like raccoons and large dogs, from polling locations.
“Every election is different and memorable in its own way,” she said.
For Trautman, resigning her position as county clerk was, in her words, “… one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I had to put my health and family first.”
Trautman, daughter of a union man, was politically active in the Kingwood Area Democrats, running for District 127 State Representative in 2006 and for Harris County Tax Assessor in 2008-10.
In 2012, she won a trustee seat on the Harris County Board of Education, serving through 2018 when she was elected to the Harris County Clerk position, serving through May when she resigned.
“After experiencing weeks of dizzy spells and high blood pressure, I was diagnosed with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo,” she said.
BPPV, as it is known, is one of the most common causes of vertigo, the sudden sensation that you are spinning or that the inside of your head is spinning, according to the Mayo Clinic. Besides dizziness, the symptoms can include a sense that surroundings are spinning, a loss of balance, nausea and vomiting.
“With physical therapy, I am improving,” she said, “but the job of county clerk is very hands on and requires being in the office daily. I felt, with my condition still uncertain, it would not be fair to my staff or constituents to continue in office.”
Trautman and Houston grew up together. She was raised in the South Park subdivision just off the Gulf Freeway just as construction began on the 610 Loop. Her dad was in the Army Air Force, stationed in England during World War II who returned to West Texas after the war where he met Trautman’s mom, swept her off her feet and moved her to Houston where, Trautman said, “… they contributed to the Baby Boom with four boys and two girls.”
Trautman’s parents were her inspiration and her role models.
“They gave me unconditional love and support and were a symbol of the Greatest Generation,” she said. “My father was a union man at a chemical plant who gave me my strong work ethic and my mother pushed me to try harder and go further with my education.”
The future Harris County Clerk earned her bachelor’s degree of arts and master’s degree in secondary education both from the University of Houston, mid-management certification from Stephen F. Austin State University, and her Doctorate of Educational Leadership from Sam Houston State University.
After a brief career in banking, she was an English teacher in both Houston and Humble ISDs before becoming an assistant principal at Conroe ISD and principal at Tomball ISD. She was an assistant professor of education at Stephen F. Austin when she was elected to the Harris County Department of Education.
Through it all, she’s been married “… to my best friend, Tim, for 36 years and have three adult children, all graduates of Humble ISD schools, two grandchildren, and a third one on the way in December,” she said.
How did she become interested in running for Harris County Clerk?
“While I was running for the Harris County Department of Education board position, I became aware of how many people did not vote all the way down the ballot,” she said, “so that those races at the end of the ballot many times were ignored.”
Trautman also noticed that many voters were turned away on election day because they would show up at the wrong location often because it had been changed at the last minute.
“I was determined to educate voters about the importance of voting all the way down the ballot because the local races often are the ones that affect you the most,” she said, “and I also was determined to increase access to the ballot box for all voters.”
That is when Trautman became interested in countywide voting centers, something other counties had been doing for years.
“Getting those centers approved definitely was the most rewarding part of my tenure,” she said, “and then hearing from so many Harris County voters how much they love it and enjoyed voting where they happened to be on election day.”
Also rewarding for Trautman was another first she accomplished, putting early voting and election day polling locations on the University of Houston and Texas Southern University campuses.
Now that she is retired and improving from her BPPV diagnosis, Trautman admits that she will miss her staff the most, all 325 of them, “… the most talented, dedicated and hard-working staff I have ever had the pleasure to know.”
She has a long list of books she has been meaning to read and, perhaps, Trautman says, do some travelling when it is safe to get out again. Maybe go back to Machu Picchu again where, a few years ago, she and Tim climbed 14,500 feet up Mt. Salcantay in Peru.
“It was hard work but very rewarding and I’d love to do it again,” she said. “I love mountain climbing.”
First, though, Trautman plans to get lots of rest and get her health back into tip-top shape.
“I plan to stay healthy so I can be around to enjoy my children and grandchildren,” she said. And then, as the daughter of union parents who gave her that strong work ethic and after successfully achieving a county office, she adds, “I would like to help and support other women who are running for office.”