Past TPA President Chris Barbee, former publisher of the El Campo Leader-News and Wharton Journal-Spectator, is El Campo’s first directly elected mayor.
Barbee, a returning El Campo councilman, earned the post during November balloting thanks to the 2,655 to 884 passage of a City Charter amendment calling for the top vote collector among at-large council members to be named mayor and the second most vote-getter as mayor pro-tem.
Barbee collected 1,920 votes to win the five-way race delayed from May to November by Gov. Greg Abbott’s order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eugene Bustamante, a political newcomer, finished second with 1,826 votes and was sworn in as mayor pro-tem. Incumbent Philip Miller, previously the mayor pro-team finished third and took an at-large post with 1,647 votes.
Barbee moved to El Campo in 1968 when his parents, Fred and Eleanor Barbee, purchased the El Campo Leader-News and Radio Station KULP.
The newspaper business was already a family tradition. Barbee’s grandfather, Fred V. Barbee Sr., was mechanical superintendent of the Brownwood Bulletin at the time of his death in 1963.
A 1970 graduate of El Campo High School, Barbee graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 1974. He returned to El Campo to help run the family businesses, which grew to include the Wharton Journal-Spectator, East Bernard Express, Edna Herald and Ganado Tribune. The Herald and Tribune were sold a few years later, and KULP was sold after 32 years operating as BarB Broadcasting.
Working his way up from sports editor and managing editor of the Leader-News, Barbee was named publisher of all three Wharton County newspapers when his father died in October 2007. In May 2009 he and his partners sold the paper. He continued to serve as Leader-News publisher for the new company through December 2010.
Barbee served as president of the Texas Press Association in 1991-92, following a family tradition. His father was TPA president in 1978-79.
He also served as president of Texas Gulf Coast Press Association in 1981-82 and 1967-68; South Texas Press Association in 1988-89 and 1985-86; and West Texas Press Association in 1967-68.