Local Elections: Geren, most other establishment Republicans fend off challengers; Anderson in runoff

Incumbents largely fended off challengers in high profile races to emerge as the winners in the March 2 state primary elections.

The GOP races continued a pattern of establishment candidates squaring off with Tea Party-backed conservatives for control of local Texas House seats and Tarrant County offices.

“The Tea Party had a strong showing again but there were no surprises in Tarrant County,” said Allan Saxe, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The local races, coupled with the GOP and Democratic presidential primary, resulted in a turnout of 21 percent of registered Tarrant County voters, who cast 215,092 ballots in the primary races. Local turnout was slightly higher than the 20 percent of Republican voters statewide who cast 2.8 million ballots in the presidential primary. Democrats statewide cast 1.4 million ballots for presidential candidates for a 10 percent turnout.

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“Turnout was high and there were some places where there were still lines when the polls closed,” said Tarrant County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips. “In Keller, the turnout was huge.”

However, turnout was not record-setting. The Democratic presidential primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 pushed turnout to about 34 percent in Texas.

“This year is opposite – it is the Republicans driving the turnout,” Phillips said.

In one of the fiercest local contests, State Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth won 58 percent to 42 percent for challenger Bo French for the District 99 Republican nomination. There is no Democratic opponent in that race. The race was predicted to be tighter as French pushed his conservative agenda to oust Geren, a top lieutenant of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a target of Tea Party-backed conservatives.

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Straus also won the GOP primary in his San Antonio House district race and has no Democratic opponent in the fall.

“A big thank you to all my supporters for your time, effort and votes!” Geren said in a statement on social media. “I could not have done it without you.”

French was outspent and apparently could not overcome the backlash from Taya Kyle, widow of famous Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who lashed out at French for using her slain husband’s name in campaign materials. French, a former business partner with Chris Kyle, had settled a lawsuit with Taya Kyle that gave her exclusive rights to her husband’s name and likeness.

Kyle’s attorneys sent French a cease-and-desist letter the week before election day and stated on social media that “Bo (is) abusing the name of my late husband, a beloved Son of Texas, and a hero to the nation, in an attempt to manipulate voters.”

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The French campaign had blamed Geren for masterminding the dustup before election day.

“We were outspent 3 to 1, and with record high turnout numbers, that just couldn’t be overcome,” French said in a statement. “I am incredibly blessed by the thousands of relationships built and strongly believe that we must have strong conservative leadership in our state. I hope Charlie will be that leader.”

In other Texas House race tea party-backed conservative incumbents Tony Tinderholt of Arlington and Jonathan Stickland of Bedford each captured 58 percent of the vote to defeat challengers Andrew Piel and Scott Fisher, respectively. Stickland will face Democrat Kim K. Leach in the fall, while Tinderhold has no opponent. In state House District 90 in south Fort Worth, Ramon Romero ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and has no challenger in the fall . In state House District 97 in southern Tarrant County incumbent Craig Goldman was unopposed in his primary. He will face Elizabeth Tarrant in the fall.

The heated GOP primary race between incumbent Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson and challenger Bill Waybourn resulted in a runoff. A third candidate, John Garris, had dropped out of the race but still captured nearly 11 percent of the vote because his name remained on the ballot. Anderson received 48.5 percent of the vote, just shy of a majority to win the nomination outright. Waybourn, former police chief of Dalworthington Gardens, received almost 40 percent. The runoff is scheduled for May 24. There is no Democrat in that race.

Anderson, who helped lead the manhunt for fugitive “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch, is seeking a fifth and final term. Running as a conservative with a tough stance against drunken drivers, Waybourn had Tea Party backing and Taya Kyle serving as his campaign treasurer.

In local judicial primary races, incumbent Republican Judge R.H. Wallace defeated challenger Traci Hutton, 54 percent to 46 percent, for the 96th Judicial District Court. Running as a conservative with the backing of Texas Right to Life, Hutton challenged Wallace for not appointing a guardian for the unborn child of Marlise Munoz, who was 14 weeks pregnant when she was declared brain dead at John Peter Smith Hospital in 2013. Wallace ordered the hospital to remove Munoz from life-support at the wishes of the family in January 2014.

The winner of the 348th Judicial District court primary race will be settled in a runoff between Mike Wallach and Brooke Allen. Wallach received nearly 46 percent of the vote to Allen’s 29 percent and Lisa Lumley’s 25 percent. The seat is open because incumbent Judge Dana Womack did not seek re-election. Joe Drago ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

In the Republican primary race for 360th Family District Court, challenger Patricia Baca Bennett defeated incumbent Mike Sinha, 57 percent to 43 percent. Sinha was appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry in 2010 and elected in 2012.