Image: Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch promised the public and the Montgomery County Commissioners Court (on February 12, 2019) he would only schedule a referendum on Woodlands incorporation during a gubernatorial or presidential election year. Political expediency has led Bunch to alter his plans and schedule the incorporation referendum on a low voter turnout odd election date, November 2, 2021.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
The Woodlands, September 15 – Despite multiple promises that he would only schedule an incorporation referendum during an even-numbered general election in order to give Woodlands residents the opportunity for a strong voter turnout to make such an important decision, Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch took the path of political expediency instead by scheduling the significant referendum on the future of The Woodlands on November 2, 2021, when nothing else will appear on the ballot other than some largely inconsequential state constitutional amendments.
Bunch made those promises not to hold an off-year election on the incorporation referendum at multiple Township Board meetings as well as privately in numerous statements. On one occasion, however, Bunch made that promise to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, February 12, 2019.
Specifically, in response to a question from then-Precinct 1 Montgomery County Commissioner Mike Meador at the February 12, 2019, Regular Meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, Bunch promised the public and the Commissioners Court:
“I would not hold an election in May with a low turnout. I would not hold an election in a period where few people actually participate. I would anticipate that any election being called would be a high anticipated turnout where the majority or largest representation of our voters are weighing in. That would typically be a November Governor’s cycle or a November Presidential cycle.
“It’s an important decision. I think that, from my personal opinion, it would not be put out there on a ballot that didn’t have high voter participation.”
Normal voter turnout in an odd-numbered-year constitutional amendment election is usually around eleven to twelve percent (11-12%). In the 2020 Presidential Election, sixty-six percent (66%) of Texans turnout out to vote. In the 2018 Governor’s Election year, fifty-three percent (53%) of Texans turned out to vote.
The immensely low voter turnout anticipated in a constitutional amendment election will favor any organization which has a list of supporters who regularly vote in response to the organization’s marketing materials. The classic example of that is the Texas Patriots PAC, the political group which formerly had supported lower taxes and less government in its literature but in recent years has come to represent the political “establishment” in The Woodlands.
The Texas Patriots PAC is the primary proponent of incorporation in The Woodlands, which such incorporation would consolidate its power by providing a city council with ordinance powers and taxing authority far beyond the Woodlands Township’s current taxing capabilities. The Patriots PAC’s candidates currently hold six (6) of the seven (7) seats on the Township Board. Only Ann Snyder, the Township Board’s only fiscal conservative, won election as a candidate running outside of the Patriots PAC’s slates. Interestingly, the Patriots PAC’s leadership – President, Vice President, and Treasurer – only includes one resident of The Woodlands, Vice President Jon Bauman who has not participated in the group’s activities for several years due to health issues. The PAC’s President, Julie Turner, and its Treasurer both reside outside of the Woodlands Township.
The election influence of the Texas Patriots PAC has waned substantially during the past four years. Nevertheless, its core supporters remain in The Woodlands. Bunch himself remains the main financial supporter of the organization.
By scheduling the incorporation referendum during an odd-numbered election year, particularly in the midst of the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its Delta Variant, Bunch and the Texas Patriots PAC have ensured their best chance of winning, because their core supporters, whom they largely are able to identify for the purpose of “get out the vote” efforts, will comprise a larger percentage of what will likely be a very low turnout contest.
When the incorporation referendum ballot measure came before the Woodlands Township Board of Directors during a special Friday, August 13, 2021, meeting, residents overwhelmingly opposed scheduling the election during the off-year and in the midst of the pandemic. Their concerns fell on the deaf ears of Bunch and his political allies who voted five (5) in favor to two (2) opposed with proceeding with the incorporation referendum despite Bunch’s previous assurances to the public and to the Commissioners Court that he would wait until a Gubernatorial or Presidential election year ton ensure high voter participation in the critical decision for the future of The Woodlands.