Politics Perks Up in Hays County

Two Hays incumbents try to keep their Commissioners Court seats

Hays County is enjoying a memorable election season in the county commissioner races, proving that regardless of whether the Commissioners Court leans red or blue (it flipped to blue two years ago), the political entertainment never disappoints in the hills south of Austin.

First up, the wacky race in Precinct 1, which stretches from the southern tip of the county along the I-35 corridor. The smallest and most dense precinct has been represented by San Marcos native Debbie Ingalsbe for the last 12 years. Her lean political apparatus includes her husband, Garry, as treasurer and a lot of door-to-door canvassing. She's taken the lead in several health-care issues for the county and has quietly been an effective background presence on a noisy court, bringing road projects and other improvements to her district.

Ingalsbe is up against the curious Repub­lican candidate Nick Ramus, an area chef and entrepreneur known for his local conflicts. The ultimate political outsider's background includes catering Ronald Reagan's inauguration, but his more relevant experience is the lawsuit he won against the county concerning his septic tank – a struggle of epic proportions Ramus expounds upon at www.stophayspowergrab.org. In September, an allegedly shotgun-toting Ramus was also booked on charges of deadly conduct, stemming from an alleged confrontation with a neighbor.

Into this void steps mystery man and write-in candidate Bill Wyatt, whose slogan, "Finally a choice," perhaps belies the desperation behind his campaign. Unlike Ram­us, however, Wyatt has both raised some money and filed the correct paperwork on time. It wouldn't be absurd to see Wyatt garner more votes with his traditional signage-and-meager-Internet-presence campaign than Ramus will with his "word of mouth" tactics. But Ingalsbe looks to be sitting safely on another four years.

Precinct 3 is a much more competitive and serious endeavor. This part of the county includes "urban" West San Marcos and Wimberley, with rural portions rounding out the rest of the vote. Incumbent young Repub­lican Will Conley is positioning himself on his record across the precinct, while his Democratic challenger, former Wimberley Mayor Steve Klepfer, accuses Conley of being too chummy with the development crowd. The two have reaped tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from as far as Houston and Dallas. They will be battling it out over the funding of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conserva­tion Dis­trict, their visions of the new subdivision rules, and the future growth of Ranch Road 12. Klepfer has questioned his opponent's relationship with the development community, while Conley suggests Klepfer may lack the necessary history to inform his decisions. Compared to Precinct 1, this is politics as usual.

Meanwhile, County Judge Liz Sumter last month injected herself into both races after calling for investigations into road projects in the two incumbents' precincts. Sumter had questioned whether the projects had been properly authorized. Although Conley and Ingalsbe were immediately cleared of any wrongdoing, the nature and timing of the investigations prompted accusations of "low-tech Swift-boating" by no less than former Texas Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting, a Hays Co. resident.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Hays County, Debbie Ingalsbe, Will Conley, Steve Klepfer, election

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