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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Early voter turnout strong for TRWD election

The high-stakes race for two seats on the Tarrant Regional Water Board has caught the attention of voters, who have turned out in large numbers to cast early ballots.

At the end of early voting on Tuesday, 11,292 early ballots were cast in-person in early voting. Another 5,840 were cast by mail, according to the Tarrant County election officials. Mail-in balloting continues through Saturday.

“It looks like we are shattering all records here with turnout,” said Aaron Harris, a campaign consultant for Craig Bickley and Michele Von Luckner, two of the three candidates challenging incumbents Marty Leonard and Jim Lane.

Keith Annis is the other challenger.

By comparison, the 2013 election drew 8,143 early walk-in votes and 4,015 mail-in ballots. Another 9,036 votes were cast on election day. The total ballots cast in that election was 21,194.

The 2013 race was also contested with one challenger, Mary Kelleher, ousting incumbent Hal Sparks as the top vote-getter in the race. Incumbents Vic Henderson and Jack Stevens were re-elected.

That was the first race that wealthy Dallas businessman Monty Bennett was helping finance Kelleher and the two other challengers in an effort to seat new directors and shift the district toward more transparency.

Bennett’s interest in that race was triggered by the TRWD’s effort to claim a portion of his East Texas ranch for the $2.3 billion pipeline that will bring water from East Texas reservoirs. Bennett’s efforts to fight the TRWD’s use of eminent domain for the pipeline has led to lawsuits and allegations of TRWD violations of state open meeting and records laws.

Bennett has again spent more than $100,000 to elect Bickley and Von Luckner in a race that has also seen extraordinary spending on re-election of the incumbents. More than $700,000 has been raised in the race by candidates and political action committees.

One of those committees, Our Water, Our Future, with former Mayor Mike Moncrief as treasurer has alone raised more than $500,000 from some of the wealthiest individuals in Fort Worth and Dallas.

Attack ads have dominated the campaign landscape, particularly by Lane and Leonard, who claim Bennett is trying to seize control of Fort Worth’s water supply.

Bennett has refuted that claim and said he is trying to make TRWD as a government entity more transparent and responsive to taxpayers.

Von Luckner and Bickley claim the district needs to end nepotism and cronyism in the district by electing new leaders and hiring administrative managers.

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