It was a white-knuckle night Tuesday for two members of the Galveston County Commissioners Court, as both survived close re-election races, at least for now.
County Judge Mark Henry rode an early advantage in absentee and early voting to a slim 51.65 percent to 48.35 percent victory against challenger Michelle Hatmaker to earn the Republican nomination for the county’s chief executive, according to complete, but unofficial returns.
The result was a surprising one considering Henry’s incumbency advantage and early fundraising lead.
Henry jumped out to the lead with 5,936 votes to Hatmaker’s 4,849 in absentee and early voting, with a dominant edge, 1,022 to 412, in absentee voting. But Hatmaker outpolled Henry on Election Day, 3,464 votes to 2,945.
Supporters of Henry’s campaign were on pins and needles all night as returns trickled in, with each set of tabulations slowly chipping away at his lead. But when The Daily News finally called the race around 10 p.m., the crowd broke out in applause — and relief.
“It’s a much tighter race than we expected,” Henry said. “We really thought people responded well to reducing the size of government and cutting taxes, but I guess not everyone’s on board with that.”
Henry faces no Democratic challenger in the November general election. Two people — Bill Young and Maryanne Rogers — have announced intentions to run as independents. First, they would have to collect enough signatures from voters who did not cast ballots in the primary to secure a place on the ballot.
Henry said he planned to continue pushing for leaner government and lower taxes in the next four years.
Meanwhile, Henry’s colleague on the commissioners court, Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin O’Brien, survived a six-candidate race and advanced to a runoff against Joe Giusti, a former Galveston police officer who ran against O’Brien in the GOP primary in 2010 for the same post.
Giusti led the six-person field with 1,604 votes or 28.05 percent. O’Brien came in second, with 1,503 or 26.29 percent. No other candidate garnered more than 13.12 percent.
“I’m very pleased about making the runoff,” Giusti said. “It’s just going to be another tough couple of months, but I think we’ll get there.”
O’Brien couldn’t be reached Tuesday evening and didn’t return a call seeking comment left at his office earlier Tuesday. Previously, O’Brien has touted his role in the commissioners court’s efforts to lower taxes and streamline county government.
Giusti said he would be a full-time county commissioner and push for term limits for commissioners and the county judge. He said he would also push for better roads and drainage in the precinct, items that O’Brien has highlighted as key issues as well.
Both candidates vowed to push for federal funding for the Ike Dike hurricane protection project.
The runoff election is set for May 27. Early voting is scheduled for May 19-23.
Galveston County Judge — (R)
Mark Henry 8,881 51.65
Michelle Hatmaker 8,313 48.35
County Commissioner Pct. 2 — (R)
*Joe Giusti 1,604 28.05
*Kevin O’Brien 1,503 26.29
Andy McDonald 750 13.12
Janet Hoffman 748 12.08
John Paul Listowski 630 11.02
Beau Rawlins 483 8.45
* Advanced to May 27 runoff election