Tarrant County voters are sticking with Republicans and tapped Tim O’Hare to lead the next era of conservative leadership within the county.
O’Hare will lead a Tarrant County Commissioners Court with a conservative majority. Republicans have dominated the five-member decision-making body for decades, despite the county’s mixed voting record in recent state and federal elections. O’Hare’s more partisan record, along with a new Republican commissioner, will likely shift the Commissioners Court further to the right.
O’Hare beat Democrat Deborah Peoples 53 to 47 percent, with about 100% percent of voting centers reporting on election night. Peoples, a former Tarrant County Democratic Party chair, previously ran twice to be Fort Worth’s mayor. For the latest county results, click here.
“I was not looking to do this at all, but they came for our police,” O’Hare said to the crowd gathered at the Ashton Depot in downtown Fort Worth. “They came for our schools. They came for our country. They came after our churches. They came after our jobs. They came after it all, and you stood up and said, ‘It’s not going to happen here in Tarrant County.’”
Most voters across Tarrant County were more focused on statewide and national issues. With Tarrant County going for incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, those Republican votes likely trickled down the ballot.
Jeremy Bland, who recently retired from the military, was excited to cast his first in-person vote in 20 years. The White Settlement resident identifies as a libertarian. He switches between voting for Republicans and Democrats down the ballot. Still, the gubernatorial race was at the top of his mind.
“I think what’s on my mind and the minds of people that I know is the economy, looking at gas prices, looking at inflation, the cost of putting food on the table,” Bland said. “Then with the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, that’s kind of shaping up a lot of elections and seeing how that kind of plays out. But I think it’s mostly just trying to do what’s best for your family.”
Multiple voters in Southlake, where O’Hare lives, said the county judge position was not their top priority when entering the voting booth.
Southlake residents Amy and Corey Edge said they vote regularly but were not following local races as closely as statewide races. Still, they recognized O’Hare’s name on the ballot.
“I think it helps (to recognize a name). When you’re not totally aware of who stands for what,” Amy Edge said.
Other Southlake residents said they didn’t follow the county judge race at all.
Turnout was low across the county Tuesday. Just about 33% of registered voters in the county cast a ballot. That’s compared with about 55% in 2018.
O’Hare is one of three new members of the five-member Commissioners Court. Roy Brooks, a Democrat representing southwest Tarrant County, and Gary Fickes, a Republican representing northeast Tarrant County, are the veteran commissioners.
What is a county judge? What does the position do?
Elected countywide, the county judge is the presiding officer and a voting member of the commissioners court. The role of the county judge in Tarrant and other populous counties of Texas is almost exclusively administrative.
Departing Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley believes the structure of county government will temper the most extreme partisan ambitions. Whitley declined to endorse a candidate in the race for county judge after his pick for successor, former Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price, lost the GOP primary to O’Hare.
“In county government, you got to count to three,” Whitley said during his final state of the county speech. “You’ve got to get your [vote], plus two more, before you’re going to get anything done.”
Whitley, who is retiring after 30 years in county government, has spoken out against the increasing partisanship of local government.
”What I pray for is that what we’re seeing in the campaigns may not be what we see in actuality after the election,” Whitley told reporters at his final speech last week.
“I think in this day and age politics are divisive, people are very divided,” O’Hare said.
Campaign promises versus governing realities
The Republican election night watch party enjoyed a packed house. Fox News stayed on throughout the night, while several Republicans running for local office spoke to the crowd.
Party officials celebrated O’Hare’s results as a victory for conservatism in Tarrant County.
“We’ve elected a huge ballot of conservatives to lead this place” Tarrant County GOP chair Rick Barnes said. “We’ve made a serious statement tonight in Tarrant County.”
O’Hare told supporters he and his fellow Republicans will do everything they can to provide property tax relief to Tarrant County residents. He also made promises on other key issues, including vowing not to shut down businesses as Whitley did during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and enforce the rule of law.
“We are going to do everything in our power to make sure we are strong on law enforcement,” O’Hare said. “I can tell you as long as I’m the county judge, if I’m fortunate enough to hold on tonight. I can tell you there’s no scenario where we never shut a church down.”
On the campaign trail, O’Hare emphasized key issues he would tackle as county judge: lowering the property tax rate, funding law enforcement, appointing an election integrity officer and attracting businesses to the region.
O’Hare has also emphasized more ideological stances while campaigning. He previously told the Report he will stand for conservative principles. O’Hare has criticized “woke, far-left liberalism and cancel culture,” on the campaign trail.
He echoed this platform, both in policy and ideology, on Nov. 8.
“Our country is the greatest country in the history of the world,” O’Hare said. “This attack on America — that America is a bad place — it needs to stop and hopefully it stops tonight.”
O’Hare also reaffirmed his plan to appoint an election integrity officer, who will look to improve Tarrant County’s election system and chase down accusations of fraud, O’Hare said.
“This is a thing that gets heavily divided,” O’Hare said. “We know there’s cheating, we don’t know how much. This person will go out and find it.”
While individual cases of election fraud have been prosecuted in Tarrant County, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the results of an election locally or around the country. A recent analysis of Tarrant County’s voting systems found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
When O’Hare is sworn in as county judge in January, his priorities will likely take a different shape, said James Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University.
“The politics of getting elected, of course, are rallying people to support you or rallying people to oppose your opponent,” Riddlesperger said. “The hope is that you will get more votes than your opponent gets because that’s how we define success and election. But governing is an entirely different proposition and particularly in the county judge, it’s a diverse thing.”
When it comes to governing, O’Hare said his first step will be meeting with Roy Brooks, the most senior member of the commissioners court.
“I will call him in the morning and try to set up lunch with him,” O’Hare said. “At the end of the day I’m going to do what I believe is right… and ultimately, people will respond to it and get behind it, or they won’t.”
Whitley offered to help his successor transition into the role of the county judge in the months between Election Day and swearing-in day.
“I’m more than glad to assist in answering any questions (the candidates) want to ask me or, you know, helping (the candidate) to understand exactly what to expect in January,’” Whitley said.
Brooks said future county leadership will need to focus on lowering the tax rate, carrying out the JPS bond, reducing the population in the county’s jail and juvenile justice center and expanding the county’s mental health diversion center.
“I look forward to working with the new Commissioners Court,” Brooks said. “There are a number of vital issues that need to be addressed by the new court, and I have every confidence we will be able to work together to solve problems for the people of Tarrant County.”
Tarrant County’s urban core
Fort Worth is the largest city in Tarrant County and the county seat. In recent elections, Fort Worth has voted more for Democrats than its more suburban counterparts.
Blair Hancock, 31, said his choice for county judge was clear. Voting in east Fort Worth, Peoples’ home turf, Hancock said they voted for Peoples in part because they found O’Hare’s campaign divisive.
“I think it’s pretty easy to say that Tim O’Hare did not run the type of race that I would agree with nor his policy,” Hancock said.
Other voters in Arlington described abortion access, property taxes and education as their top motivations for going to the polls. While state and national issues were the main force driving voters to the polls, Carmenia Sturges said local elections are equally important.
“The presidential election is something that’s always been pushed, but our community is actually affected by these elections,” Sturges said. “Seeing change in the world doesn’t just start on a higher level, but we have to hit the ground. So this is hitting the ground, this is the year for it.”
Peoples called O’Hare to concede around 10 p.m..
“While tonight’s results weren’t what we wanted for Texas, I will spend the rest of my days working to grow prosperity in Tarrant County, protect the rights of all Texans, and ensure that common sense can win out over extremism,” Peoples said in a statement.
As Republican revelers filed out of the election night watch party, O’Hare addressed the media. He reiterated policy priorities and pinned a more divided political landscape in part to the media.
“Ultimately I’m not going to be able to bring every single human being together,” O’Hare said. “We’re in a very difficult, divided political time and you people (the media) don’t help us.”
O’Hare also said Tarrant County residents who didn’t vote for him will stand to benefit from his leadership.
“Cutting property taxes is good for everyone regardless if they voted for me or not,” O’Hare said. “What people should know if I’m going to be honest and tell the truth, sometimes they’re not going to like it but I will work with anyone and everyone and treat everyone with respect.”
Rather than rhetoric or public statements, Arlington voter Sturges hopes political leaders will focus on ensuring her children get a good education and being a leader for everyone.
“You want the best person regardless of whether it’s Democrat or Republican, we’re looking at the people and what they have to offer,” Sturges said.
This story was updated Nov. 9, 2022, to show results after 100% of voting sites reported their numbers.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.