Tarrant County residents cast 48,479 early ballots in Saturday’s elections for municipal, school board and other district offices.
Election Day polling places will be open throughout Tarrant County Saturday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
“Overall, it’s a little higher than average,” Acting Elections Administrator Stephen Vickers said of the early voting. “I’d say turnout will be in the 8 to 9 to 10 percent range.”
Early voting returns show that 14,572 ballots were cast in the race for three seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors.
After a mostly subdued election season, the water board race took a nasty turn in the final stretch.
The race for TRWD board seats has been contentious in recent election cycles, with campaigns marked by mud slinging, attack ads and exorbitant fund-raising and spending.
This year’s race has been uncharacteristically peaceful as five candidates have campaigned to become the three top-vote getters in Saturday’s election. Running for the board are incumbents Mary Kelleher and Jack Stevens. Also running is banker James Hill, Realtor Andra Beatty and Leah King, chief development officer of United Way of Tarrant County. The three candidates with the largest vote totals will have seats on the board. Victor W. Henderson, president of the TRWD board who has been on the board since 1985, did not seek re-election.
But then a political action committee called Our Water, Our Future released campaign fliers supporting Stevens, King and Hill that charge their opponents, Kelleher and Beatty, of accepting campaign contributions from wealthy Dallas businessman Monty Bennett through MJB Operating L.P.
Bennett has been protesting the TRWD’s use of eminent domain to claim a piece of his East Texas Ranch for a $2.3 billion pipeline that will move more water faster from the East Texas reservoirs of Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The pipeline is a joint project between TRWD and the city of Dallas.
Bennett has sued several times over procedural issues with the TRWD’s efforts to take a portion of his land for the pipeline.
Former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief is treasurer of the Our Water, Our Future PAC, which cites its goal as “to protect our local water.”
The PAC reported raising $360,445 in political contributions during two reporting periods for this election, including $152,245 in the latest report filed last week.
Major contributors include wealthy residents and groups from Fort Worth and Dallas, including Lyda Hill, of the Hunt family of Dallas, who contributed $10,000; the Dallas Citizens Council, which contributed $25,000 and Carl Sewell of Dallas contributed $25,000.
The Betsy Price Campaign contributed $4,500 and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton contributed $15,000, according to filings. Several Fort Worth-based PACs contributed to Our Water, Our Future. The Texas Progress Fund contributed $105,000 and the PSEL PAC contributed $35,000. Both Fort Worth PACs list Dee Kelly Jr. as treasurer.
The PAC has sent out a several mailers that target Kelleher and Beatty as “puppet candidates” of Bennett.
One mailer states that Kelleher and Beatty have been helping “Bennett with his ongoing efforts to disrupt and take over control” of the local water supply.
Beatty, running as an independent candidate, responded with a legal filing of a cease and desist order against Our Water, Our Future, claiming that PAC’s mailers are false and defamatory. The order states that Beatty has “never met or spoken with Bennett.”
“Ms. Beatty’s campaign finance statements clearly indicates no donations by Mr. Bennett or any organization related to him,” the order states. “The mailer sent was maliciously intended to defame Ms. Beatty, and cause damage to her business reputation.”
The order also insists that the PAC, Stevens, King and Hill as well as political consultants Tim Reeves and Brian Epstein stop “making or publishing the false allegation that Ms. Beatty is associated with or influenced by Mr. Bennett.”
In her most recent campaign finance report, Beatty reports small contributions amounting to $425, a loan of $7,000 and an in-kind political contribution of a mailer for $5,201 from the campaign of State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.
In her earlier campaign finance report, she listed contributions of $2,450 in small contributions.
Kelleher’s latest campaign finance report lists $9,730 in contributions, including $9,680 from Bennett’s MJB Operating LP. In her earlier filing, she reported contributions from MJB Operating of $2,285 for a campaign website and other small expenses.
Stevens, King and Hill each reported receiving $40,000 in contributions from Our Water, Our Future. Each reported receiving $20,000 from the PAC in the two reporting periods.
King reported contributions of $34,919 in the latest campaign finance report and $23,100 in the previous report. Stevens reported contributions of $30,575 in the latest campaign finance report and $23,100 in the earlier report.
Hill reported contributions of $46,850 in his latest campaign finance filing and $25,397 in his earlier report.