A Year in Review – Politics dominate headlines throughout 2010
Shifting political landscape causes elections to span the year
In a year where the national landscape was dominated by contentious politics and a lagging economy Lockhart and Caldwell County headlines were dominated consistently – and persistently – by candidacies, elections and a nearly 10-month marathon of politicking.
Beginning with a record-breaking amount of electio
n filings in January and winding through runoffs and special elections until things were finally settled in November’s General election, voters were called to the polls – or called to attention, nearly every month in Caldwell County.
Caldwell County’s political landscape underwent massive shakeups in early January as candidates lined up to test the waters of the 2010 Primary Election. Precinct One County Commissioner Tom Bonn resigned halfway through his second term to seek the office of County Judge, while Lockhart Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram announced that he would resign his seat to seek the same office. Those shifts, along with a bumper crop of candidates on the ballot for most countywide offices, set the stage for a year rife with political maneuvering.
The first such maneuver was County Judge H.T. Wright’s appointment of John Cyrier as an interim Commissioner. Cyrier later sought his party’s nomination and was eventually elected to fill that seat for the remainder of the unexpired term.
When election filings were complete, more than 30 candidates were seeking election, and only three races remained unopposed at some level, either during the Primary or during the General Election.
Maxwell-area residents rallied before the Commissioners’ Court in January to show their support for the creation of an Emergency Service District, a taxing entity that would rely on ad-valorem taxes, rather than exclusively upon donations, to fund the fire department.
The Travel Channel made a visit to Lockhart in January, renewing national attention to the age-old question, “Who has the best barbecue in town?” During three days of on-location filming at Smitty’s Market and Kreuz’s Market, Food Wars host Camille Ford got a taste of the best fare Lockhart has to offer – but ultimately, let her guest judges decide which was best.
The University Interscholastic League (UIL) announced district realignments in mid-February. The biennial process of district realignment is meant to ensure even distribution of teams and fair balances within student populations. The 2010-2012 assessment, however, shook Lion fans to their core, as Lockhart fell to the unenviable position of being the smallest district in a grouping of wealthy, powerhouse school districts. The UIL District 27-4A alignment included: Lockhart, Hays, Lehman, New Braunfels Canyon, Schertz Clemens, Alamo Heights and Smithson Valley.
While LISD Athletic Director Melinda Kirst said she expected the realignment to pose certain challenges for the Lions and the Lady Lions, she was also optimistic, if not enthusiastic, that the redistricting would give Lockhart’s student athletes the chance to compete, and hence to develop, at a higher level.
With the opening of early voting in the March 2, 2010, Primary Election, discussions started heating up about Caldwell County’s polling places, and the availability of early and absentee voting locations.
The conversation was driven by a petition filed with Caldwell County Tax Assessor-Collector Mary Vicky Gonzales – also the county’s chief election official – requesting that her office extend the hours available at the absentee voting location in Luling.
Although Gonzales was not able to make arrangements for extended early voting during the Primary Election, the discussion was harbinger of things to come. Polling locations grew, over the months between the March Primary and the November General Election, to be one of the hottest topics of discussion in the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court.
The first phase of an exhaustive election season wound down in March, after Primary Elections narrowed the field of candidates and set the stage for the Nov. 2 General Election.
A field of five candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Caldwell County Judge was narrowed to two as Morris Alexander and James “Jimmy” Bertram rose through the ranks to move into an April runoff election. Alexander won a plurality in the Primary, taking just over 30 percent of the vote, to Bertram’s 26 percent. However, because there was no clear majority (50 percent of the vote, plus one), the pair had to go head-to-head at runoff.
Elsewhere in Primary Election news, a two-vote margin separated Republican Party hopefuls for the Precinct Four Commissioner’s chair. Grant Rostig faced off for the party’s nomination with Grady Keenan, eventually emerging with a 136-138 victory, after a recount of the votes was requested and performed.
Development in Lockhart’s Central Historic District was a key topic of conversation throughout the month of March, as several items kept city council members guessing.
During their first meeting in March, the council considered making changes to the Historical Preservation Ordinance which were suggested after a survey of downtown property owners said they found the ordinance in its current form overly prohibitive and “overreaching.”
After several members of the Historic Preservation Commission balked at the notion of changes they had not been given the chance to review, the council was forced to put the measure off, based on an existing rule requiring both public hearings and review by the Commission before any changes are made to the Historical Preservation Ordinance.
Days later, a renovation project on South Main Street sparked new concerns, after a miscommunication or misunderstanding between the property owners and the Lockhart Fire Marshal’s Office ended in a heated appeal before the city council.
Construction pressed forward on SH-130, prompting a variety of road closures, some of which will continue throughout the construction process until the thoroughfare is open for business in 2012.
A dark pallor fell early over the month of April in Caldwell County, with the passing of County Judge H.T. Wright. The three-term judge, who was slated for retirement at the end for 2010, fought a brief battle with declining health, and succumbed to lymphoma on April 7, 2010, at the age of 84.
The void left in Caldwell County’s leadership with Wright’s passing was one that took more than a month to determine how to appropriately fill. Despite several meetings and discussions about the issue, the remaining Commissioners closed the month of April without an Interim Judge being chosen.
Meanwhile, Morris Alexander soundly defeated James “Jimmy” Bertram in an April 13, 2010, runoff election for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Caldwell County Judge. Alexander earned just over 66 percent of the vote to declare victory, and earn a place on the November ballot against Republican nominee Tom Bonn.
Inside the City of Lockhart, although Bertram’s bid to become County Judge was unsuccessful, the city’s resign-to-run rule triggered a special election to find a new mayor. During April, three candidates – Donna Voetee, Joe Bruch and Ray Sanders – threw their hats into the ring in hopes of becoming Bertram’s successor. Meanwhile, plans moved forward for the renovation of the third and fourth floors of the Masonic Annex of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex, hitting a small stumbling block when some library patrons expressed concerns about a proposal to move the children’s and juvenile literature sections into the historic Clark Building.
After more than 20 years, the Lockhart Independent School District decided to terminate its contract with Durham Transportation, instead opting to purchase a fleet of buses to be managed under Student Transportation Services.
The community was jarred in early May by what Lockhart police called an “alleged attempted abduction.” A youngster walking home from school was asked by two strangers in a silver sedan to approach their vehicle to “help them find someone.” Rather than approach the car, the child ran home and reported the incident to her parents. Reports spread like wildfire through the community, and also pointed out a hiccup in communications between the Lockhart Police Department and the Lockhart Independent School District – a gap which leaders of both organizations say was rectified immediately.
Ray Sanders won his bid to return to the Mayor’s Office by an overwhelming margin, earning 257 of the 319 votes cast in the election. Sanders’ opponents, Donna Voetee and Joe Bruch received 43 and 19 votes, respectively.
As Sanders settled back into life at City Hall, another “former” returned to the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court – former Commissioner Ronnie Duesterheft accepted the appointment as Interim County Judge, stepping in to complete the term of the late County Judge H.T. Wright.
A bumper crop of LHS Seniors walked the stage in May, graduating with the Class of 2010. Though graduation rates have been increasing over the last several years, only three members of the Class of 2010 were forced to sit out commencement ceremonies because they had not yet passed the TAKS test. That number was down from nine in 2009, and more than 30 in 2008.