Last week’s historic national election grabbed most of the headlines over the past few days, but the impact of several local races shouldn’t be overlooked.
One takeaway, off the top: Killeen seems to be turning more blue — that is, leaning more toward the Democratic Party — but the county as a whole still trends Republican.
This is especially true, as two of three Democratic candidates in Killeen-area races came out on top. Gregory Johnson defeated Michael Keefe for the Precinct 4, Place 1 justice of the peace spot. Martha Dominguez topped Michael Copeland for the Precinct 4 constable seat.
Democrat Keke Williams, a political newcomer, won the western Bell County vote by about 1,500 votes against Republican District 54 state Rep. Brad Buckley — though heavy Republican turnout in Lampasas County secured reelection for the incumbent.
But the “blue wave” that had been expected throughout the state never materialized, and Bell County as a whole went red in races up and down the ballot. The county gave Republican President Donald Trump an 11,000-vote edge over Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Bell County also gave a 14,600-vote advantage to incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn in his battle with Democrat MJ Hegar.
The local congressional races were a little different. Bell County favored incumbent U.S. Rep. John Carter by more than 22,000 votes over Democratic challenger Donna Imam. But in the District 25 race, where the county’s numbers reflected largely Killeen-area voters, U.S. Rep. Roger Williams trailed Democrat Julie Oliver by a 4,300-vote margin.
However, while Killeen’s tilt toward the Democratic Party might seem sudden, it likely started several years ago.
In the 2018 general election, rural Killeen rancher Kathy Richerson topped Buckley by 903 votes in Bell County, though Lampasas County carried Buckley to victory, as it did this year. In addition, Democrat John Driver defeated incumbent Republican John Fisher for the Precinct 4 Bell County commissioner’s post, winning by 3,500 votes.
So, in effect, Killeen’s “blueness” has been fairly well established for a few years.
The big question is how much that trend will impact future elections, especially with state and congressional redistricting on the horizon after the 2020 Census results are released.
If, for example, the 54th Texas House District is redrawn to exclude Republican-leaning Lampasas County, will control of the seat shift to the Democrats?
The same goes for the District 25 and 31 congressional seats. If some or all of Killeen is shifted out of District 31 and placed in District 25, will that change the odds for winning each seat?
Of course, other factors will also come into play, such as incumbency, the strength of the candidates running and what voters see as important issues. But demographics play a major role in determining who has the best chance of winning — and holding — a seat. Understandably, that’s what makes the redistricting process so contentious every 10 years.
Another takeaway from Tuesday’s election is how much the Killeen City Council’s makeup changed in a single night.
Going into the municipal election, the seven-member council was split between two blocks that generally voted along the same lines, often producing a 4-3 vote.
Previously, it was common for Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kilpatrick and Council members Juan Rivera and Debbie Nash-King to vote together on one side of council agenda items, with Council members Shirley Fleming, Steve Harris and Gregory Johnson to vote together on the opposite side. Councilman Butch Menking was frequently the swing vote, breaking the tie.
However, after Tuesday night’s election, that scenario is out the window.
That’s because three of the current council members won’t be returning for another term.
Menking lost his reelection bid, and both Johnson and Rivera are stepping down. Johnson won the Precinct 4 JP race, and Rivera is term-limited.
In their place, the council will have Ken Wilkerson, Rick Williams and Mellisa Brown. How the three will vote on any given issue remains to be seen, but the coalitions they build may change the city’s path on a variety of issues.
Among them are the adoption of developer impact fees, increases in residential utility rates and funding for the city’s economic development corporation.
Fleming has indicated she would like to see the issue of water and sewer impact fees revisited, after the current council rejected further discussion the issue in a 4-3 vote last month. Three of the votes to cut off discussion came from Johnson, Menking and Rivera.
How the three new council members stand on the issue may determine whether the city moves ahead with adoption of the fees, which have been a source of friction between the city and local developers.
In response to a question on the issue in today’s Herald, both Brown and Wilkerson said they favor the assessment of such fees, and Williams said he is open to a discussion on the issue.
Funding of the city’s EDC is also an item that may come back before the council.
The current council voted to fund the EDC with $750,000 for the coming year, but several council members had asked for more transparency on how what initiatives were being pursued by the EDC and how the money is spent.
Both Wilkerson and Brown indicated to the Herald that they were in favor of changing the way the chamber is funded. Williams said he would be willing to review it at the end of the current contract.
Indeed, one council voice can make a difference, and certainly one council vote can decide whether an item is approved or rejected.
The coming months will be extremely interesting as the new council dynamic comes into play.
One last takeaway from Tuesday’s election: Area residents made their voices heard in impressive numbers.
Early voting broke all previous records for the county, and overall turnout reached 58% — an increase over the 51.4% turnout in the 2016 presidential election and also the 52.8% achieved in the 2012 General Election.
In addition, a total of 126,203 ballots were cast — the first time the county has eclipsed 100,000 ballots in a single election.
Candidates, too, are to be applauded for getting their message out to the voters, which was made more difficult in elections that were moved from May to November because of the coronavirus. The social-distancing challenges brought on by the virus and the plethora of races competing for attention on the Nov. 3 ballot no doubt made for some difficult campaigns.
The fallout from this election — at the local, state and national level — will continue for some time to come. How it will all play out remains to be seen.
For now, we can just congratulate ourselves on getting through this contentious election relatively unscathed.
Let’s all get a little sleep, revel in the total lack of political ads in our mailboxes and on the airwaves and enjoy the approaching holidays.
And whatever you do at Thanksgiving, don’t discuss politics.
It’s just too soon for that.