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Bell County candidates campaign for July 31 runoff

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Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012 12:00 pm

By Philip Jankowski

Killeen Daily Herald

The primary election cycle has been anything but ordinary this year, with campaigns protracted by federal redistricting fights.

It will finally come to an end July 31 with a primary runoff for three Bell County offices. Early voting for sheriff, the 146th District judge and Precinct 3 commissioner begins Monday.

Even in a normal election cycle, turnout for runoffs is typically low. Sheriff candidate and current Precinct 3 Commissioner Eddy Lange estimated that only about 25 percent of voters who cast ballots in May's Republican primary will return to the polls for the runoff.

It has created a different sort of campaign for the candidates. The main message for many has been a simple reminder that the election is coming.

"You're trying to get those people that supported you to come back one last time," said Lange.

Lange is facing former Bell County Jail Administrator Bob Patterson. The winner will be the county's first new sheriff in 28 years. Sheriff Dan Smith Jr. is retiring after serving for seven terms.

Patterson has enjoyed the official endorsement of Smith throughout his campaign. Lange, on the other hand, has the endorsement of Precinct 1 Constable Luis Cortez, who was the third-place finisher in the primary, along with local and state fraternal orders of police.

Patterson's campaign has focused in part on the sheriff's endorsement, promising to continue operating the office in the traditions of Smith. He also has focused on the management experience he gained by running the county jail, which is the largest staffed department within the county.

"I've been doing that for 17 years," Patterson said. "My leadership skills are proven."

Lange has pointed to his experience as a commissioner in shaping the county's budget as proof that he will get more for less out of sheriff's deputies.

"I'm trying to get more officers on the street to do more interdiction, give citizens more bang for their buck," Lange said. "I know from being a commissioner that there are not going to be any new bucks."

The difference has played into the key issue between the two candidates. During Smith's tenure, the sheriff's office has come to rely on Texas Department of Public Safety state troopers for traffic enforcement.

It has led to a scant number of citations written by each patrol deputy. Each patrol officer is responsible for 350 square miles of unincorporated Bell County and spends the large majority of time responding to calls for service.

Lange has said he wants to expand the patrol division. Patterson has said he would not increase its size.

Both candidates have continued to advertise and go to events throughout the county to drum up support.

Seeking support

Temple attorney Mary Black Pearson, who is running for 146th District Court judge, said she has used the past two months to seek out new supporters.

"I think there are still people out there that didn't know that candidates in the first round," Pearson said.

She is vying against fellow Temple attorney Jack Jones to succeed Judge Rick Morris, who will retire after more than 23 years on the bench. The court hears civil cases and family law.

Jones said he hopes the endorsement of former opponent Brett Pritchard will win him support among voters in the west side of the county, where Pritchard ran strong.

"By no means is the (Killeen area) irrelevant," Jones said. "Every vote counts as much as the next one."

Even though the Killeen area has the voter muscle to tip the election in either direction, the election may be won or lost in Precinct 3.

Precinct 3 advantage

All six candidates in the Republican primary runoffs live in Precinct 3. And the county's only contested commissioner election between Bill Schumann and Marty Janczak will likely generate more interest for residents there.

Lange said he believes that gives him a distinct advantage. Longtime residents will be used to seeing his name on the ballot, where it has appeared at least nine times.

Lange, who lives in Heidenheimer, won a majority of every ballot box in that precinct during the primary.

Killeen's turnout was already low in the May 29 primary. Killeen averaged 73 votes in each of its 15 voter precincts, compared to 221 votes per precinct in county Precinct 3.

"This is a pass-through community, and if (residents) don't buy into it, they don't vote," Killeen police Chaplain Alvin Dillard said at a recent community forum at the Killeen Police Department.

Killeen resident Edmond Jones voiced frustration with local turnout at the event.

"For a city this size, our voting is negligent and incompetent," Jones said. "They're dumb and stupid for not voting."

Contact Philip Jankowski at philipj@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553.

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