Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Little Local Politics: Election Outcomes

Back in September my city held a primary election to narrow the race for mayor from three candidates to two, and to reduce to four the field of five candidates for two city council seats. The incumbent two-term mayor was ousted in a tight three-way split. The remaining candidates were a sitting two-term council member (who is also a former planning commission member) and a well known libertarian retired dentist that publishes his own monthly newspaper.

There were no incumbents in the city council races. The primary election eliminated a candidate that did very little campaigning, leaving two men that ran vigorous campaigns based on fiscal responsibility and two that ran lackluster campaigns based on good growth management.

I asserted at the time that in the November election voters would opt for the sitting council member as mayor and would give the nod to the two council candidates that received the most votes in the primary election. I reasoned that most of the voters that had chosen the sitting mayor in the primary election would default over to the sitting council member, since this fellow was closest of the two remaining candidates in philosophy and temperament to the current mayor.

I also figured that the city council candidates would continue to campaign much as they had done during the primary season, so that the top vote getters in the primary would win the general election. Another clue that led me to this conclusion is that it is common for voters in local elections to be strongly influenced by larger political trends.

The vast majority of voters in my town are registered as Republicans. Only the most politically attentive citizens bother to vote in local elections. About 17% of registered voters went to the polls in the primary election and just under 26% turned out in the general. That’s about average for primary elections, but below average for local general elections.

Based on these factors, I assume that most that voted in yesterday’s election are strong Republicans that are informed enough to be quite worried about our nation’s current fiscal condition. In this kind of climate, planning for growth isn’t going to hold a candle to fiscal discipline.

Predicting the future is always an iffy business because unforeseen factors can always influence events in ways that could not have been anticipated. I felt pretty confident that nothing like that was going to happen in these races. But you never know for sure until it happens.

The results are in and my predictions turned out to be correct. The sitting council member is now the mayor elect, having garnered 59% of the vote. In the council race, the two fiscal hawks beat the growth planners by margins as large as 3-1. Given the way he campaigned, I have to wonder whether my friend that came in last place had much desire to win.

My biggest surprise is that the libertarian candidate for mayor pulled in 41% of the vote. I had expected something closer to 35% based on some of the outcomes of past efforts he has supported and on the idea that he would have difficulty expanding his base much beyond his percentage in the primary election.

On the other hand, the libertarian did campaign hard. He also made a big issue about the city’s recent tax increases in the last two editions of his newspaper, which each home in the city received for free. It may be that voters aren’t as upset about the tax increases as he thought they would be or that he failed to successfully pin on his opponent the fact that he voted in favor of the increases as a council member.

Or perhaps tax concerns were overcome by the trust factor. This fellow’s libertarian views are well known. And frankly, many voters are scared or put off by these views and some of the approaches that have been used to promote them over the years.

My city also voted for members of the fire district board. My town has partnered with two neighboring towns in providing a fire department for decades. Recently the fire agency was spun off as its own governmental unit. Each city elects two board members and all cities vote for one at-large seat.

Among the three that ran for the two fire board seats from my city was a current city council member. I have nothing against this member, but I felt that her sitting on both the city council and the fire district board would violate principles of good government. Most other voters voted as I did.

My city’s local elections are done for two years. Then three city council seats and one fire board seat will be up for election. By then we will see how the new mayor is doing and we will have some idea as to whether the two new city council members remain true to their ideals of fiscal discipline or not. I appreciate all that participated in these civic contests. Now it’s time for the winners to do the jobs for which they campaigned.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Once again you demonstrate your grasp of the political system and human nature where politics is concerned. Remind me to hire you as an analyst and/or campaign strategist for any serious campaigns I run.