Tarrant County legislative incumbents win primary election

North Hi Mount Elementary is always a busy polling place, the line stretching in to the school's parking lot. Super Tuesday voters at various voting locations in Tarrant County, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, at South Hi-Mount School in Fort Worth.
North Hi Mount Elementary is always a busy polling place, the line stretching in to the school's parking lot. Super Tuesday voters at various voting locations in Tarrant County, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, at South Hi-Mount School in Fort Worth. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

A trio of Republican Tarrant County legislators embroiled in controversial and costly re-election bids won their primaries late Tuesday night.

Republican state Reps. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Jonathan Stickland of Bedford and Tony Tinderholt of Arlington — all involved in heated local races watched by many statewide — claimed victory.

“These are three of the top races in the state people are watching,” said Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Quorum Report, an Austin-based online political newsletter. “This is the election for many people, not the national primary.”

Stickland and Tinderholt — widely supported by Tea Party members — were among those whose re-election bids were targeted by more establishment members.

And Geren, who some claim is too moderate a member, had his district challenged by a more conservative member, challenger Bo French.

“For many, this is about what the next Legislature is going to look like,” Kronberg said of the struggle between moderates and more staunchly conservative GOPers.

West Texas billionaire Farris Wilks, who also has made generous donations to Empower Texans, and Tim Dunn, a Midland oilman who has been the primary donor to Empower Texans for years, were among those who heavily donated to Stickland, Tinderholt and French, hoping to help make the Legislature more conservative.

As the results rolled in late Tuesday, Stickland had a message for some Texans.

“Get ready Austin,” the firebrand said. “I’m coming back on a mission.”

Here’s a look at where the contested local legislative races stood early Wednesday, according to unofficial election results from the Tarrant County Elections Center.

House District 92

Stickland, an outspoken Tea Party firebrand first elected to this district in 2012, jumped out in front with early voting and ultimately held on to 58.1 percent of the vote to the 41.8 percent picked up by challenger Scott W. Fisher, a Euless pastor backed by establishment Republicans.

“I am very excited to continue the fight for liberty in Texas, especially after crushing the Austin establishment’s attempt to steal this seat,” he said late Tuesday.

This costly and contentious race was marked by often vicious allegations between the two touching on issues ranging from Stickland’s past drug use and controversial online comments to whether Fisher advocated for the expansion of Medicaid in Texas, something Republican leaders have fought.

Even former Texas Gov. Rick Perry weighed in on the race, throwing his support behind Fisher, his appointee for a number of years to a variety of state boards and commissions.

“Scott Fisher has an incredible record of achievement,” Perry said in a statement. “Scott Fisher knows how to take strong conservative values and turn them into successful conservative policies.

“Scott is a conservative that can get things done.”

The winner will face Democrat Kim K. Leach in November in the battle to represent the district that includes Hurst, Euless, Bedford and parts of Arlington, Fort Worth and Grand Prairie.

House District 94

Tinderholt, elected two years ago to represent this district after toppling then-incumbent Diane Patrick, garnered 58.3 percent of the final vote.

Challenger Andrew Piel, a business and construction lawyer and former Tarrant County assistant district attorney supported by establishment Republicans, had 41.6 percent.

“I feel pretty good,” Tinderholt said. “I think the numbers are a testament of running a positive campaign other than a mudslinging campaign.

“Also, this is it’s a result of doing what you said you would do.”

The contentious race for this central west Arlington district drew attention in the days leading up to the election as both candidates said they received threats and were worried for the safety of family members.

There will be no Democratic challenger for this post on November’s ballot.

House District 96

In a low-key race, incumbent state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, accrued 71.7 percent of the vote to challenger Wesley Nelson’s 28.2 percent.

The winner will face Democrat Sandra D. Lee in November to determine who will represent the district that includes parts of Arlington, Mansfield and Kennedale.

House District 97

Elizabeth Tarrant, an operator at Texas Crude Energy Llc., won this low-dollar quiet race to claim the Democratic Party’s nomination for this Fort Worth legislative district.

She claimed 78 percent of the early vote to the nearly 22 percent garnered by Andrew T. McKernon, an executive at Business Development and Healthcare Technology,

The last time a Democrat represented this district was around eight years ago, when Dan Barrett won a special election to replace the retiring Anna Mowery, a Republican.

Since then, Republicans have represented the district — and state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, has held the post since 2013.

The winner will face Goldman in November.

House District 99

Geren, first elected in 2001, took a strong and early lead in his re-election bid for this northwestern Tarrant County district over conservative challenger and family friend Bo French, who is making his first bid for public office.

Ultimately, Geren, who has long drawn complaints that he and the House leadership are too moderate, drew 58.2 percent of the vote to French’s 41.7 percent.

Around 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Geren said French called to concede.

“He ran a hard race, we ran a hard race,” Geren said. “I”m very grateful to my constituents for sending me back.

“I think my constituents are tired of people from Midland (and elsewhere) trying to buy District 99.”

This race, a controversial and often nasty fight that topped the $1 million mark, grew heated in the days before the election as accusations ramped up over negative attacks.

Just recently, attorneys for Taya Kyle, the widow of claim Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to French demanding that Chris Kyle’s likeness and name not be used in his campaign literature.

French, who served as a chief officer of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s tactical training company Craft International, drew media attention in 2014 for ending up in court arguing with Kyle’s widow about the future of the company. A lawsuit filed against French and his partner was ultimately dropped.

French, who said he wishes “only blessings” on the Kyle family, said he hasn’t been using Chris Kyle in campaign literature.

“I have addressed her concerns by reviewing all the literature which we are currently using and Chris’s name is not on any of those materials or mentioned on our campaign website,” French said in a statement to the media.

Geren, a powerful top lieutenant of House Speaker Joe Straus, has long been targeted by those who believe he’s not conservative enough.

French, a private equity investor, drew financial support in his election effort from the Empower Texans PAC and Midland oilman Timothy Dunn for their combined efforts to move the Legislature to the right.

The two men and their prominent families have long run in the same circles; Geren’s parents lived across the street from French’s grandparents.

The district that stretches from Fort Worth to Pelican Bay and from River Crest to Azle.

There will be no Democratic challenger for this post on November’s ballot.

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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