The power of incumbency was evident in last week’s Killeen municipal and school board elections.
All three sitting Killeen ISD board members and both incumbent Killeen councilmen were returned to office by the voters.
The obvious question is what kind of message the voters were sending by their choices.
That’s especially true in the Killeen council race, where the top vote-getter was not an incumbent but a political newcomer, Gregory Johnson.
Johnson garnered 1,499 votes in earning an at-large council seat. During his campaign, he advocated stronger oversight of the city’s finances and came out in favor of zero-based budgeting — both apparently positions that resonated with voters.
Jonathan Okray, a two-term incumbent who has been openly critical of the city’s financial reporting practices and lack of transparency, finished a close second.
Together, the two councilmen have the potential to be the leading voices in guiding the city toward greater financial accountability and improved budgeting procedures.
Re-elected Councilman Juan Rivera can also be a voice for change in the financial realm — a theme that takes on added importance as the city moves deeper into the current budget cycle.
The new council’s first big task will be the appointment of a council member to fill the District 2 seat vacated by Mayor-elect Jose Segarra, who stepped down to run for the mayor’s post.
The council should move quickly to fill the vacant seat — with the goal of finding someone who has an understanding of municipal budgets and an aptitude for identifying cost savings.
With the city’s proposed budget scheduled to be presented in less than two months, the council can’t afford to spend half of that time choosing a qualified appointee, as some members have proposed. The council also must move forward with the search for a proven city manager.
Meanwhile, the election of three incumbents to the Killeen school board would seem to send the message that district voters wanted to stay the course.
Still, with only 3 percent of the district’s registered voters turning out at the polls, it’s difficult to say whether the results were a clear mandate or a reflection of the incumbents’ ability to mobilize supporters effectively.
In a district with close to 90,000 registered voters, the leading vote-getter, Place 1 incumbent Shelley Wells, received just over 2,700 votes.
The district’s challenges in the areas of special education, responsiveness to parental concerns and transparency were well documented during the past year.
Given these areas of concern, candidates challenging the board incumbents should have done better. But none came within 600 votes of a sitting member.
Certainly, incumbency has its advantages — especially when board members take up the topic of employee pay raises just before the start of early voting. The board subsequently approved a 2.5 percent increase, just three days after the election.
Still, there were other factors at play.
For the most part, the challengers’ campaigns were not well organized — not enough door-to-door campaigning, yard signs, public appearances or advertising.
The Herald gave challengers ample opportunity to present their views and propose solutions to some of the district’s challenges. All had side-by-side Q&As with the other candidates in print as well as video interviews and biographies at kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics.
But they all fell short on election day.
That doesn’t mean the concerns the challengers expressed or the criticisms they leveled were any less viable, but it does mean that they failed to transmit them to prospective voters effectively.
From the comments they made on election night, the board incumbents appear to understand the need to address the district’s challenges, and more than one acknowledged there is work to be done.
Regardless of who won in last week’s city and school board elections, that’s what matters most — the understanding that important work lies ahead — and a determination to accomplish it.