Bond passes, GOP holds local seats

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

It was a good night for the Liberty Hill ISD $98.6 million bond package and Republicans down the ballot Tuesday as election returns rolled in.

“It’s a win, and a huge statement for us,” said LHISD Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart. “It is a tremendous show of support for what we’ve got going on in LHISD. It says people are understanding that a positive vote on a bond issue is a positive statement on the kids and future of our community.”

The bond passed with 59 percent of the vote in the biggest election in terms of turnout ever in a Liberty Hill ISD election. There were 7,579 ballots cast in the bond election – 4,477 for and 3,102 against – more than doubling the previous high 3,455 in 2010 for the high school bond election.

The volume of voters participating was something the district watched closely.

“We watched it and stayed on top of it and it was huge,” Hart said. “There were more than 5,000 early votes, and more than 7,000 votes cast in this election overall. It took forever to post because the turnout was so huge. Every time they updated it, though, the lead got bigger.”

Passing the bond gives the go-ahead to the district to build a new elementary school, a new middle school, convert the Intermediate School into an elementary campus, and add classroom space onto Liberty Hill High School.

The estimated price of the new elementary school, which will house 800 students, is $32.2 million.

The estimated costs of the other projects in the bond proposal are $50.5 million for the new middle school with a 900 capacity; $1.2 million to renovate the Intermediate campus to an elementary school; and $14.7 million to add classroom space onto LHHS.

Hart attributed the passage of the bond to the district’s past success, both fiscally and in the classroom, as well as the transparency of the process and hard work of the Political Action Committee promoting the bond. He said he personally addressed 18 groups to share information on the bond proposal.

“We’ve done our homework, met with groups, but we were surprised by the numbers,” he said. “Our PAC was phenomenal, they worked hard on all of this, working car lines, door knocking. They did a super job.”

The 1,375-vote margin of victory – more than the total votes for and against in the 2016 bond election – was also a welcome result for Hart, who said he has seen bonds pass or fail by single digits.

“That’s a huge vote of confidence for us and verifies we are doing the right thing and doing it the right way,” he said, adding the district could now turn its focus to making the projects reality. “It takes a load off of us and allows us to focus on moving forward and keep up with the growth and demographics. That took a tremendous amount of our time and now that part’s done.”

The bond passed in six of seven precincts, with only Pct. 395 failing to support where only two voters cast ballots, both against the measure. Two precincts in the southeastern portion of the district – 267 and 345 – showed the most support with 735 more votes in favor than opposed.

Election
While Republicans carried the election in the area, races were tight, with Democrat Senate Candidate Beto O’Rourke out-gaining incumbent Republican Ted Cruz by nearly 6,000 votes in the county, and Democrat US Rep. Candidate for District 31 MJ Hegar pulling about 3,400 more votes than incumbent Republican John Carter.

Those numbers did not hold up, though, in the wider race, as both Cruz and Carter held their seats.

In all, 206,429 Williamson County voters went to the polls. The total was slightly more than the 2016 number, but only 61 percent of registered voters compared to 67 percent in 2016.

Republicans swept the county races on the local ballot, with Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long and Justice of the Peace Edna Staudt both winning with 53 percent of the vote.

“I am thankful to the voters of Pct. 2 for putting their confidence in me to continue to represent them,” Long said. “I am honored.”

Challengers Kasey Redus in the Commissioner’s race and Audrey Amos-McGehee for Justice of the Peace finished 24,646 and 24,754 votes, respectively.

“When I went and filed we didn’t have anyone running and I never considered running for anything,” Redus said. “We wanted to get candidates in every place and when I made the decision I felt like I dove in and worked really hard.”

Despite the losses, Redus said she felt good about the message Democrats were able to send in this election.

“We’re here,” she said. “We’ve always been here, but now we’re showing up and are part of it all. It was so lopsided, but now we’re not backing down and we’re getting people to show up. Republicans now know it won’t be easy anymore for them.”

Republican Bill Gravell is the new Williamson County Judge, defeating Democrat Blane Conklin and Independent candidate Bill Kelberlau. Gravell replaces outgoing Republican County Judge Dan Gattis who is retiring.

Gravell won 51 percent of the vote to Conklin’s 45. He credited what he called a grass-roots effort for the victory.

“I’ve been proud to call Williamson County home for nearly my entire life,” Gravell said in a statement, “so it’s difficult to put into words what tonight means to me or how grateful I am to the voters of this community for entrusting me with such a humbling responsibility.”

Republican County Clerk Nancy Rister won another term, as did Republican County Treasurer Scott Heselmeyer.

On the east side of the county, Republican Russ Boles edged Democrat Carlos Salinas for Pct. 4 Commissioner. Two incumbent Republican Justices of the Peace, Jody Hobbs in Pct. 4 and Dain Johnson in Pct. 1, were ousted by Democrats KT Musselman (Pct. 1) and Stacy Hackenberg (Pct. 4).

Republican District 20 State Rep. Terry Wilson was reelected with 71 percent of the vote over Stephen Wyman.

Republican incumbent Tony Dale in Cedar Park – District 136 – lost to Democrat John Bucy, and Democrat James Talarico defeated Republican Cynthia Flores in District 52 on the east side of the county in a pair of State House races.

Texas Senate Republican incumbent Charles Schwertner held on to his seat amid allegations of sexual misconduct from a University of Texas grad student, defeating Democrat Meg Walsh by 43,000 votes in the 11-county district.

Schwertner has denied any wrongdoing, but did not grant interviews prior to the election. The University of Texas continues to decline to comment on the issue or any investigation.

In the congressional race, Carter was propelled to another term by a nearly 12,000-vote advantage in Bell County. After the race was called Tuesday, Carter thanked his supporters via Twitter.

Hegar, a first-time candidate, said in a statement she was proud of the efforts of her campaign.

“I am so proud of the campaign we built,” she said. “I am proud of the voters we registered who voted for the first time. I am proud of the way we rose above partisanship and inspired people from both sides of the aisle to find places we could agree. While things didn’t go as we hoped, we gave it our all and left nothing on the field. We ran a clean and honest campaign, and I have no regrets.”

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