In the bitter and divisive race for two seats on the board of the Tarrant Regional Water Distict, two incumbents, Jim Lane and Marty Leonard, jumped to an early lead Saturday night over three challengers and stayed there to win.
In complete but unofficial results, Lane won 34 percent, and Leonard had 33 percent of the vote.
Challenger Michele Von Luckner had 15 percent and Craig Bickley 14 percent. The fifth candidate, Keith Annis, had 5 percent.
A total of 51,622 votes were cast. The top two vote-getters win the seats. Each voter could select two candidates.
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Reached at her campaign party, Leonard was pleased with the returns.
“I’m excited,” Leonard said. “I really am. I’m as excited as the first time I won.”
Lane said he believed the election affirmed that water district is on the right path.
“That confirms my faith in the people of Tarrant County,” Lane said. “It makes me tremendously happy.”
Lane said he will continue to support the $2.3 billion Integrated Pipeline Project and the $910 million Trinity River Vision/Panther Island Project.
But he has another prioritiy, too.
“I want to get the lights back on at LaGrave Field and get the Cats playing ball,” Lane said.
While waiting for final returns, Von Luckner said she was proud of her campaign.
“I think we raised a lot of good issues,” Von Luckner said. “I think more people know what the Tarrant Regional Water District is and what they should be doing. I think we put a spotlight on them.”
Bickley expressed disappointment in the returns and said they couldn’t overcome the backing the incumbents had from the business establishment. Mayor Betsy Price and former Mayor Mike Moncrief also backed Leonard and Lane.
“I think fear ultimately won out in the voting booth,” Bickley said. “Hopefully they'll understand that people do have concerns and hopefully they'll address them. I absolutely plan to keep an eye on this.”
Bickley said he still has questions about the pipeline project, which will provide water to both the water district and Dallas.
“I still have legitimate concerns about the pipeline and hope the board will look at it and address those concerns,” Bickley said.
The race had been anticipated ever since Mary Kelleher won a seat on the board two years. There was an unsuccessful legal challenge to force an election last year.
Accusations were traded by both sides.
Lane and Leonard had campaigned on a platform that Dallas businessman Monty Bennett was using the election to take control of the water board, which Bennett denied.
He backed Von Luckner and Bickley financially. And Bennett is suing the water district to try to stop it from using eminent domain to run a portion of the $2.3 billion Integrated Pipeline Project through his ranch in Henderson County in East Texas.
Both Leonard and Lane said the water district has done a good job of planning for the area’s long-term needs. Von Luckner and Bickley said the water board has shown a lack of oversight, has a problem with nepotism and has a lack of transparency.
Annis said the district hasn’t done enough to focus on water quality and other environmental issues, such as planning for climate change.
At a campaign forum, Von Luckner used the Trinity River Vision/Panther Island Project as an example of the problems in the water district. She said taxpayers “still don’t have anything but a movie theater, a restaurant and wading in water that I wouldn’t put my children in” to show for the project.
A raw deal?
At the same forum Bickley had said the pipeline project is a raw deal for water district customers.
Leonard strongly disagreed, saying the pipeline would benefit Tarrant County since it will allow the water district to pull more water from its two East Texas lakes, Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek.
“We are permitted to take more water out of those two reservoirs,” Leonard said. “We just don’t have enough pipeline to get it here.”
The race, once almost an afterthought of voters, was inundated with campaign donations. Our Water Our Future, a political action committee with Moncrief as treasurer, raised more than a half-million dollars for Lane and Leonard. Bennett contributed more than $100,000 each to Bickley and Von Luckner. Annis, meanwhile, relied primarily on small donors.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698