A few thoughts the day after the May primary…if you feel so inclined, weigh in with your own thoughts by making a comment at the bottom…
Voter turnout in Lee County was 44.4 percent, with 13,450 ballots cast. The lack of contested primaries on the Republican side for Lee County Commissioner and the lack of a real race on the Republican presidential ballot likely kept the number of GOP voters much lower, comparitively, than Democrats, although final breakdowns won’t be available for a few days. The Lee County Board of Elections says Tuesday’s vote was the highest turnout since the 2004 General Election, which means that with decent weather this coming November, and with what promises to be a tight Lee County Commissioner race and, of course, a presidential ballot, turnout will likely top 50 percent.
Unofficial exit polls were done by some observers and poll workers, as always. I got a call late Tuesday afternoon from an ardent sales-tax opponent who predicted that the sales tax measure would be approved and that the Board of Education winners would be Dr. Lynn Smith, Shawn Williams, Cameron Sharpe and Mark Akinosho. I was taken aback by the concession and I held out hope this anti-tax person’s prediction would stand. But as you know by now, the sales tax was defeated by a 55-45 margin and current BOE Chairman Bill Tatum, not Akinosho, won back his seat on the board.
Sales tax vote: Most people with whom I spoke in the last couple of weeks understood the .25-cent sales tax question, and the vast majority of them said they’d support it. Its defeat was a little surprising; the margin of the defeat was very surprising. Another informal exit poller (he worked the polls for a BOE candidate) said today that the people he spoke with who voted against the tax said they did so because “our taxes are too high already,” and that he got the sense these voters didn’t understand the possible fallout from a defeat – that indeed property taxes might go up to help pay for repairs and renovations at Lee County High School and CCCC. Maybe my “sample” was a bad one, statistically, but it was clear from people I spoke with and people who talked up the tax that the more you knew about it, the more likely you’d vote for it. The big question now is: what next? What will the county and the school board do in response, and how will organizations like the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, which helped lead the fight for the tax (along with nearly a dozen endorsing organizations, including The Herald), respond? And might we see the issue back on the ballot in November? The gloating by the Americans for Prosperity and John Locke Foundation has been surprisingly tame today; parties in both groups are already making the call for a consensus-reaching group to form and then work within the county to address government spending.
BOE vote: Cameron Sharpe joined incumbents Bill Tatum, Dr. Lynn Smith and Shawn Williams in victory lane last night. I thought Mark Akinosho had broader support from both the “inside the bloc” crowd (supporters leaning toward the incumbents, including late write-in candidate John Bonardi) and the “outside the bloc” crowd (supporters leaning toward Sharpe, Kim Lilley and write-in candidate and former board chairman Ruth Gurtis), but not so. Akinosho finished 6th in an eight-horse race, ahead of only the two write-in candidates. One local political observer told me last week that Sharpe would win one of the four seats because he either knows or is related to almost all of Lee County…I don’t know about that, but now that he’s won the seat, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Will Sharpe reach out to Tatum & Co. and begin to dialogue about how he can become an asset on the board? Will Tatum and the others reach out to Sharpe and find a way to integrate him into the board? Or will we have a silent stand-off that results in 6-1 votes from here until at least the next election? (And will the provisional ballots put Lilley in the seat instead of Tatum? And provided Tatum does stay in, will he remain as chairman? And how much input will Gurtis, Sharpe’s mentor, now have?) Interesting to note as well that with with a little more than 39,000 votes cast for BOE candidates, the average voter voted for only 2.91 candidates – just less than three per person, when you could vote for four. Perhaps some bloc-only (sans write-ins) voting?
Commissioners: Board Chairman Bob Brown was ousted; former BOE member Richard Hayes will join fellow Democrats Ed Paschal and Jerry Lemmond, both of whom are seeking re-election, and Republicans Larry “Doc” Oldham, Dr. Andre Knecht and former commission board Chairman Herb Hincks on the November ballot. Voters will select three of the six. Lots to speculate on about these races. Brown didn’t provide great leadership as chairman and, like some of his fellow Democrats, he often looked toward de facto chairman Robert Reives before casting his vote to make sure he voted the way Reives wanted him to. Lemmond has widespread support because he’s very engaging and goes to everything – every event, every gathering – and he’s established great rapport with his constituency. Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of support Hincks gets. He helped establish Lee County as a two-party county a decade ago, and he’s enjoyed broad support from both parties in the past. But Hincks has wondered how much Republican support he’ll get come November; he’s become a little unpopular with some of the Republican elite. Paschal got in despite campaigning very little. The swing vote for a new chairman could be Hayes, if both he and Hincks win in November…but that’s getting way ahead of the game. Way ahead.
For now, I think most of us look forward to a brief break from politics…