Jeff Bauknight’s interest in politics and government began at an early age.
“I kind of got bit by the political bug in high school,” he said. Bauknight, who has represented District 3 on Victoria’s City Council since 2013, is one of three candidates who have filed to run for mayor in the July 3 special election. He will be joined on the ballot by David Crook and Emett Alvarez.
Bauknight said directing parking for an event supporting a U.S. House of Representatives campaign for Mac Sweeney was one of his earliest introductions to politics. While in college, he worked as an intern for U.S. Rep. Greg Laughlin in Washington D.C.
Bauknight’s father, Dr. Bruce Bauknight, said he felt his son’s interest was also influenced by numerous relatives who had served on civic boards and in local government.
“It was not just the politics portion of it,” the elder Bauknight said. “Maintenance of streets, what happens in a disaster, that all was very interesting to him as an engineer.”
Bauknight earned both a bachelor and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M.
After graduating, Bauknight went on to work as a senior construction project manager for Intel Corporation, which took him away from Victoria and eventually Texas. He worked in Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and eventually overseas in Ireland.
When he left Victoria where he had grown up since the age of 3, Bauknight said he was eager to get away and understand who he was as a person. But in Ireland he said he had an epiphany.
“I’m pretty confident in who I am now,” he remembered thinking. “I can do whatever I want. And I can head back to Victoria and be my own person and not my father’s son in the eyes of other people.”
He and his wife decided they wanted to raise their two daughters around family and moved back to Victoria. Bauknight bought his own business, Crossroads Mechanical, in 2004.
He said it was conversations with former Mayor Rawley McCoy, who died unexpectedly in March, and an interest in building codes and construction that first got him involved with the Victoria Building Board of Adjustments and Appeals and then later the Victoria Planning Commission.
In 2010, he became a member of Associated Builders and Contractors. He was also a founding board member for Mid Coast Construction Academy, an apprenticeship program started by Associated Builders and Contractors.
“He’s been really helpful just spreading the word, talking about the program and getting community support for the program,” said Kristi Stevenson, president of Associated Builders and Contractors.
She described Bauknight as the type of person who takes initiative, is conscientious and incredibly easy to work with.
When Paul Polasek ran for mayor in 2013, vacating his District 3 City Council seat much like Bauknight now, Bauknight decided to run for City Council. He won the election and was reelected three subsequent times.
“I didn’t really have any item. I wasn’t, ‘I’m going in there to fix this,’” said Bauknight of his first campaign. “It was more of a ‘I really like being part of the solution,’ instead of complaining about it.”
When he began on Council, Bauknight said he dug through the budget, line item by line item, to look for any extraneous spending that could be cut. But he couldn’t really find anything, he said.
Even now when it comes to finding room in the budget for street repairs and maintenance, it’s a constant trade off and balancing act, he said.
“Everybody on Council would love to say, ‘OK, we’re fixing every road in the next five years,’” he said. “But it’s just the fact of the matter that the money is not there.”
While they didn’t agree all the time, Bauknight said he loved what McCoy was doing for the city, particularly how he tried to find ways to regionally grow economic development and to revitalize the south side of the city of Victoria.
“To me, Victoria has always tried to approach economic development the same way, year after year, and we haven’t gotten the results that we think we deserve,” he said. “So we got to try some new methods and new ideas and new ways of approaching some of this stuff.”
When McCoy died in March, Bauknight said he began to feel a duty to run and carry out McCoy’s vision for the city.
He said he hopes people can recognize that he will be able to think about the entire city.
“Yes, I was a District 3 representative, so mainly, that’s where my feedback would be coming from,” he said. But he’s also used to taking calls from constituents of other districts or helping fellow council members when they didn’t have time to respond to constituents, he said.
He hopes to encourage citizens to keep giving their input on issues, especially with regard to spending the COVID-19 stimulus relief money the city will be receiving.
“I want the community to reach out and give us your ideas,” he said. “It helps us. It helps us when we get feedback.”