Galveston County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Clark has served in his position for 20 years, making him one of the longest-serving elected officials in Galveston County.
This year, Clark is facing three challengers who argue they should be the one to end his tenure on the commissioners court.
Clark is being challenged by former Friendswood City Councilman Billy Enochs, businesswoman Michelle Hatmaker and businessman Jim Bulgier, who all argue that Clark’s time on the commission should end.
Clark says he’s still up for more.
Clark was first elected in 1998, and sat on the court as it shifted from being dominated by Democrats to one controlled by Republicans, a consequence of a 2010 Republican surge in local politics.
“They’re going to say commissioners court has been divisive,” Clark said of criticisms he expected from his opponents. He argued that he has been effective in pushing conservative issues on the board, however.
In the past eight years, the court has been able to reduce taxes and reduce the size of government, he said, citing a redistricting in 2014 that cut the number of county constables and justice of the peace courts.
Clark said he was interested in another term to finish projects he has worked on that will benefit the community, such as a new Pelican Island Bridge, which he said could be an economic boon for the entire county.
“I am an effective conservative leader who is working hard and is responsive to my constituents,” Clark said. “I’m using my experience and historical knowledge and the relationships that I’ve developed to benefit all the taxpayers in Galveston County.”
Precinct 4 covers areas in the northwest part of the county, including parts of Friendswood, League City and Dickinson.
No Democrat is running for the Precinct 4 seat, meaning the winner of the primary race will be the presumptive commissioner-elect.
The winner of the race will serve a four-year term on the commissioners court. This year, a seat on the commission included a salary of $102,324, along with an automobile allowance of $12,000.
Enochs sat on the Friendswood City Council for six years. A director with Memorial Hermann Healthcare, his resume includes positions with the oil and gas industry, with a private space contractor, and as a major in Texas Air National Guard, where he developed disaster recovery operations experience.
Enochs said he was interested in finding ways to better unite the county government with city government, suggesting there might be some services, such as emergency dispatch operations that the governments could share as a group, or a unified health care system for public employees or a countywide master parks plan.
“We need to come up with a unified vision for the county,” Enochs said. “Right now, each of the cities goes at it alone. I would be pushing to try to get together and unite these cities.”
Enochs said he thought cities like Friendswood don’t feel a true partnership with the county government.
Hatmaker has never held elected office. In 2014, however, she ran a relatively close primary campaign against County Judge Mark Henry. She lost the nomination to Henry by about 1,000 votes.
Hatmaker said she felt her background in real estate and development gave her an edge on opponents in understanding where the county is heading.
“It’s definitely time for a change,” Hatmaker said. “I believe I’m the only candidate with a working history and a living history with both the north and the south part of the county. I lived in Galveston for most of my adult life and I built some very strong professional relationships on the island; and I grew up in the northern part of the county in the Clear Lake area.”
Those relationships will give her a “crossover” appeal when it comes to making deals and debating issues on the court, Hatmaker said.
Of all the candidates, Bulgier has the least local political history — having never held elected office or run for a political position. He also is the newest resident to Galveston County. Bulgier moved his legal address to Galveston County in the past two years and is still building his “forever home” in Friendswood, on the same street as Clark.
“The carpetbagging story is just not a true story,” Bulgier said, referring to claims made by his opponents about his residency. “I am a resident of Galveston County. I’ve had the property for over two years, and homesteaded it just this last year.”
No one has legally challenged Bulgier’s residency during the campaign.
Bulgier, who owns a construction and demolition business, said he’s familiar with county issues from having lived in the Harris County part of a Friendswood for a long time and from owning a dozen rental properties on Galveston Island.
Bulgier said the commissioners court could do a better job controlling county property valuations — which have continued to increase in recent years — by using its influence to appoint more conservative members to the Galveston Central Appraisal District.
“I think the first thing I would tell them is that we need someone that will be fair and realize who we’re working for,” Bulgier said.
He added that he intended to donate his salary to charity if he were elected.
The primary election is Feb. 20. Election Day is March 6.