Settling Dust

Dr. Malcolm Cross

The May 2018 city council election has come and gone.  It was pretty tame, with little to make it memorable.  But a few of its features deserve mention.

First, the election reflected the voters’ basic satisfaction with their government, at least at this point in time.  All three of the incumbent city council members seeking re-election won their races, two by healthy margins, and the third without opposition.  A long-serving council member was elected Mayor, again, without opposition.  The contrast between this election and others in which incumbents went down to defeat and new council members with different ideas took office is clear.

Second, the election, although hard-fought, was relatively clean, besmirched by only one example of an unprincipled smear aimed at one of the candidates by a supporter of his opponent, who seems not have been personally involved.  Fortunately, enough outrage was shown by decent voters to discourage any further such personal attacks.

Third, among both the election winners and losers, several emerged as potential future leaders.  The most obvious example is that of Brandon Huckabee, elected to fill the only open seat left vacant by the retiring Jerry Warren.  He ran his campaign with intelligence and skill, and will add to the civility and reason which the most responsible council members bring to bear on the analysis of issues and the making of public policy.

But Justin Allison and Moumin Quazi also did well for themselves and thereby showed they have the potential to continue to be of service in the future.  Both waged principled, issue-oriented campaigns while refraining from personal attacks on their opponents.  Both won large, if not winning, percentages of the votes.  Both showed grace in defeat.  Quazi, in particular, responded to the aforementioned unprincipled and malicious smear with grace, dignity, and class. 

Fourth, the voters showed their opposition to no new taxes is nuanced, conditional, and not absolute.  They rejected the election bids of two candidates pledged to lower taxes, and they approved the ISD bond issue, which authorizes the borrowing of $60 million, and requires a property tax increase to raise funds to pay off the debt. 

This should not, however, be interpreted as a green light for the council to increase its own spending and taxing capabilities significantly.  The voters wanted to tax, spend, and borrow more money for a narrow purpose—upgrading the school programs and facilities—and not as a general approach to local governance.  Besides, the inevitable tax increase for the ISD will make a city tax increase less feasible—as a general rule, when one local government raises its property tax, the voters are less likely to approve of other local governments following suit, given that all local governments in the same county are taking their money from the same limited source.

On the other hand, upgrading the schools will contribute to the long run economic development of Stephenville and Erath County by making them more attractive places for manufacturers to relocate.  And a stronger, more diverse economy will produce lower per capita tax rates down the line.

So, if this election is to be remembered for anything, perhaps it should be remembered for voters’ commitment to spend a massive amount of money to upgrade the schools—a major step in the economic development of the region.  If school improvement does, in fact, usher in new opportunities for economic growth and development, this election may also be noteworthy for showing we have the leadership, both on and off the city council, to take advantage of those opportunities.  But only time will tell.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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