When the Business Press endorsed two candidates in the May 9 election for two seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors, our editorial made the point that we weren’t trying to tell people how to vote or influence the outcome of the election. The voters apparently took us at our word; the candidates we supported finished last and second-to-last in a five-way race.
It’s never fun to see your pick run last in any kind of a race but elections aren’t about picking winners; they’re about voters choosing the individuals they believe will best represent the public in whatever office is at stake.
I have always had great faith in the voters and their judgment. Lawyers often say you should never argue with a jury. When it comes to elections, newspapers should never argue with the voters.
The voters chose incumbents Jim Lane and Marty Leonard to serve four more years on the water board, giving each more than 33 percent of the 51,619 votes cast in the election. The three challengers together had 204 fewer votes than Lane and just 44 more than Leonard.
It was a resounding victory for Lane and Leonard but we believe it reflected the high regard voters have for those two individuals much more than it suggested widespread support for the water board and its policies. The campaign was clouded by mudslinging on both sides and, in the end, the majority of voters settled on candidates they knew and trusted – candidates whose records of public service and reputations for fair play were unassailable.
But if the election revealed the Business Press to be a failure as a “kingmaker,” it proved us to be a resounding success as a newspaper, as a vital source of information, opinion and diverse points of view.
It is common these days for folks to say to those of us in the print media business that no one reads newspapers anymore. Based on reaction to our news coverage and editorializing leading up to the water board election, that sentiment is dead wrong.
People on both sides have written us to say that our news stories, columns, op-eds and endorsement editorial spurred them to vote, many casting a ballot in a water board election for the first time. We’ve been both praised and panned, sometimes in the harshest terms, but a newspaper’s job is to encourage debate and stimulate thinking. We clearly accomplished that – and we demonstrated that people not only read the newspaper, they react to it.
I have heard that certain members of the Fort Worth business community are “mad” at me and I’ve been told that Lane and Leonard felt betrayed by our endorsement of their opponents. I’m not sure who these angry business people are – I haven’t been contacted directly by any angry business leaders, but I have heard from several members of the business community who appreciated our news coverage and our leadership in taking a stand on the election.
As for Jim Lane and Marty Leonard, I can only remind our readers that we have written glowingly about both of them. Leonard comes from a family with a great legacy of community leadership. She has been an exemplary role model for women in business and civic life, a devoted volunteer to a number of charitable causes. Lane has a stellar record of service in the armed forces and as a public official.
Our decision to endorse challengers Craig Bickley and Keith Annis was the result of our belief that changes are needed in the way the water board goes about its business and that Bickley and Annis were best equipped to address that need.
Lane and Leonard gave no indication during the campaign that they believe changes are needed, but we would hope that they go into their new terms with open minds and the awareness that despite their impressive victory there remains a widespread belief throughout the community that the water district is not sufficiently accountable to the public – that its decision making and financial dealings need to be more open and transparent.
Voters made it clear on May 9 that they trust Lane and Leonard as overseers of the region’s water supply. The returning board members should now validate that trust by making an objective assessment of the district’s policies and the board’s procedures and priorities. Lane and Leonard have the stature to initiate and implement change. They can, they must, restore the public’s confidence in the crucial public institution they’ve been chosen to lead.
Richard Connor is chairman of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at email@example.com.