With property tax burdens and outside developer influence taking center stage, turnout in Plano’s heated city council runoffs is outpacing the May general election.
By Erin Anderson
June 7, 2019
Plano residents are taking notice of important local elections, turning out to vote early in the city’s hotly contested runoff races in high numbers that actually outpaced early voting totals in the regular May municipal elections.
From May 28 through June 4, 15,373 voters cast early ballots in the Plano City Council runoffs—over 9 percent of the city’s registered voters—with 861 of those ballots cast by mail.
By comparison, early voting in Plano’s May 4 general election drew 13,915 voters (8.57 percent turnout), with 663 casting ballots by mail.
Collin County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet says it is “very rare” for more voters to participate in a June runoff than the May election.
Fueling the higher-than-normal turnout are contentious runoffs for two city council seats—the only races on the ballot—that have attracted a flood of special interest money. Campaign finance reports filed with the city show outside high-density developers are heavily backing Mayor Harry LaRosiliere’s endorsed candidates: an incumbent criticized for hiking city tax bills and a controversial Democrat.
Campaign rhetoric has heated up during the runoff—in attack mailers, outside the polls, and on social media. Even the mayor chimed in on Facebook, calling the citizen-supported pro-taxpayer candidates he opposes the “Hate Slate.”
Candidate Shelby Williams is challenging Place 5 incumbent Ron Kelley, who voted with the mayor to raise Plano homeowners’ city property tax bills each year he’s been in office. Lily Bao is running against former Democrat precinct chair Ann Bacchus for the open Place 7. Bao challenged LaRosiliere in the 2017 mayoral election.
Williams and Bao say they favor responsible growth that maintains Plano’s current suburban identity and doesn’t overtax residents or give special deals to developers at the expense of residents. Both are endorsed by government accountability group Plano Citizens’ PAC and other community leaders and organizations, as well as the Collin County Republican Party and Gov. Greg Abbott.
Kelley and Bacchus are part of the mayor’s slate of pro-developer candidates who are heavily financed by developer-funded We Love Plano PAC and the Plano Firefighters Association.
Campaign finance reports show Kelley received over $45,000 from We Love Plano PAC and other developers during the general election, and more than $50,000 from the Plano firefighters’ union for his runoff campaign.
Bacchus reports We Love Plano PAC gave her more than $100,000 during the general election and another $32,000 for her runoff campaign; the Plano firefighters’ union gave Bacchus over $19,000. Voters also learned recently that Bacchus spoke at a fundraiser last year for U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who is notorious for her anti-Semitic comments.
The other two council candidates endorsed by the mayor, Maria Tu and Rick Grady, were elected in May.
Plano’s last city council election, in May 2017, also resulted in runoffs, which were won by pro-taxpayer candidates Anthony Ricciardelli (who defeated Bacchus) and Rick Smith. Early voting turnout in the June 2017 runoff was 7.9 percent (12,535 votes), well below that general election’s early voting turnout of 12.1 percent and lower than this year’s runoff participation.
Total turnout in this May’s election was 13.3 percent. Sherbet said it will be very interesting to see if Election Day turnout in the runoffs continues to outpace May turnout.
Election Day is Saturday, June 8. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Plano voters who live and are registered to vote in Collin County may cast ballots at any polling location within Collin County. Plano voters who live and are registered to vote in Denton County must vote at Denton County’s polling location.
Erin Anderson is the Metroplex Bureau Chief for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout the area. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.