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Friday, March 5, 2021

Election Daze: Turnout could be key for incumbents, challengers

Early Voting

Early voting runs from April 22- 30. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 22-26; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 27, 29 and 30; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 28.

Early ballots may be cast in person at 29 locations in Tarrant County.

Election Day is May 4

For a list of voting locations, visit tarrantcounty.com/en/elections.html

Local elections traditionally result in limited upsets and few surprises and this year’s elections are predicted to follow a similar pattern.

But with early voting set to begin Monday, April 22, for the May 4 general election, some observers say this year might bring change.

“This year could be a telltale indicator of whether 2018 was a trend or an anomaly,” said Tom Stallings, a non-partisan political strategist and principal in Mosaic Strategy Partners, a Fort Worth political consulting and communications firm.

Without a doubt, last year’s highly hyped national midterms and this year’s general election of municipal, school board and special district races is like “comparing apples to oranges,” Stallings said but there are some insights to be gleaned from the May 4 election outcome for Fort Worth and Tarrant

Midterm results were widely seen as a sea-change as reliably red Tarrant County flashed purple as charismatic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke outpolled incumbent Ted Cruz in Tarrant County.

In addition, Democrat Beverly Powell defeated GOP incumbent Konni Burton, a couple of county positions were won by Democrats and Ron Wright was outpolled by his Democratic opponent in his home base of Tarrant County but won the U.S. 6th District Congressional seat with turnout in GOP strongholds of Ellis and Navarro counties.

Midterm results were driven by unusually high turnout by both Republicans and Democrats, including many first-time voters and suburban women who shifted from Republican to Democratic, according to political experts.

This trend was evident nationwide as well as locally.

Whether energized voters mobilize and turnout in large number on May 4 could have an impact on the results and be seen as a trend, Stallings said.

The Fort Worth mayor’s race is the likeliest bell-weather of a true political shift, according to Stallings and others.

Mayor Betsy Price, who is seeking re-election to a fifth-term, faces Deborah Peoples, who is chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, as her top challenger.

Although the mayor’s race and all other May 4 races are non-partisan, People’s partisan position contrasts with Price, who formerly served as Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector after winning as a Republican.

James Riddlesperger, professor of political science at Texas Christian University, said it would be difficult to determine partisan trends in local races.

“Local races are about things everyone cares about, whether they are Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “Things like, ‘Is my sewer system working? ‘Are the streets safe, do we have good lighting in neighborhoods?’

“Voters in local races focus on services and those transcend party affiliation,” he said.

Even when local races involve complex issues such as tax revenue and relief, pension fund shortfalls or the funding crisis in of the Panther Island development, voters tend to overlook them, he said.

“Voters in local races tend to not understand or focus on complex issues,” Riddlesperger said.

As a trend, turnout tends to be low in local races and voters tend to favor incumbents, Riddlesperger said.

During the last local general election in 2017, turnout for all city, school board and special district races in Tarrant County was 8.62 percent. In 2015, it was 9.04 percent.

The citywide Fort Worth mayor’s race had a turnout 8.29 percent in 2017 while individual district races ranged from a low of 5.65 percent to 14.68 percent.

Fort Worth ISD school board races, all individual districts, had turnout ranging from about 11 to12 percent.

Turnout in the district-wide race for the Tarrant Regional Water District board was 8.62 percent in 2017.

Higher voter turnout could favor challengers just as it did in the 2018 midterm races, Stallings said.

Tarrant Regional Water Board

After several highly contentious election cycles, marked by exorbitant spending and mudslinging, this year’s race for the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors resembles an ordinary grassroots endeavor.

Five candidates are running for two seats on the five-member board. The two-highest vote getters win the seats.

Incumbents Marty Leonard and Jim Lane, who have both served on the TRWD board since 2006, are seeking new four-year terms.

Their challengers are former TRWD board member Mary Kelleher, who lost her re-election bid in 2017, attorney Gary Moates and real estate broker Charles “C.B.” Team.

Although the race is less rancorous than previous TRWD board elections, candidates represent differing viewpoints on water district operations and its inability to attract to critical federal funds to advance the Panther Island project, the signature development of its underling agency, the Trinity River Vision Authority.

Despite support and authorization from the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, the project has been passed over for a federal appropriation for the past three funding cycles and appears headed for another disappointment in the 2020 fiscal year.

The TRVA board recently chose a nationally-known consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive review of the $1.17 billion Panther Island project, also known as the Central City project. The Dallas-based firm of Riveron is expected to complete its review within three months.

Management and oversight of the project are among the top matters Riveron is expected to examine in the review.

Moates, Kelleher and Team are all running on reform platforms, including improving TRWD transparency, public accountability and focus on flood control over economic development.

The Panther Island project, touted as a flood control measure, has been criticized by federal officials for its dual focus on economic development, according to information provided to Mayor Betsy Price.

Leonard and Lane support the TRWD and TRVA and hope to continue shepherding the Panther Island project to a successful conclusion.

In the past, Leonard and Lane received support from the political action committee, Our Water, Our Future, with former Mayor Mike Moncrief serving as treasurer.

That PAC raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past for Leonard and Lane, as well as other candidates, but is not operating this election cycle.

A new PAC, the Tarrant Water Alliance, with former TRWD board President Vic Henderson serving as treasurer, is supporting Leonard and Lane in this election.

As of April 4, the PAC reported raising $34,803 in contributions and $16,500 in expenditures. Contributors include J. Luther King. Jr., $5,000; BNSF RailPAC, $2,500; Martha “Marty” Leonard, $10,000; Michael K. Berry, $10,000; and the Jack Stevens Campaign, $703. Stevens is president of the TRWD board.

Moates reported collecting $55,405 in contributions and spending $4,839. He reported receiving the highest amount in contributions. He reported receiving $5,000 from the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors; $10,000 from George Young Jr; and a personal contribution of $10,000 among his contributors.

Team reported receiving $23,659 in contributions and spending $6,574. Major contributors include the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors, $5,000; Grant Huff. $4,000; and Stephen Luskey, $5,000.

Kelleher reported contributions of $4,010 and expenses of $2,042. Her contributions were mostly in small amounts of $100 or less.

Leonard reported contributions of $1,000, $10,205 in cash and $7,500 in expenses.

Lane reported $22,500 in contributions, $14,250 in expenses and $7,675 in cash on hand.

His major contributors include the Kay Granger Campaign Fund, $6,750; and the Committee for Public Safety. $5,000. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, is a key backer of Panther Island project.

J.D. Granger, executive director of the TRVA, is Granger’s son.

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