The Day After

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…

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11 Responses to The Day After

  1. Chad Adams says:

    Well said. It will be interesting to see if the pro-tax side simply wishes to call anti-tax increase types ignorant or consider that a well thought out solution with a clearly defined objective might make more sense.

    25+% property tax increases, Business Privilege Tax increases, 200% fee increases and tough times with companies getting incentives that are laying off folks locally and yet the leadership doesn’t seem to understand that folks are tired of paying higher taxes??

    Add to that a poor understanding of the school board’s budget and proposed 20% increases in local spending far exceeding student enrollment increases? Here’s hoping that the next round of proposals includes a variety of opinions rather than simply a left leaning one.

  2. Michael Sowers says:

    Commenting about the school board candidates, I was all set to vote for Mr. Akinosho because he was a new face and, I thought, he would bring enthusiasm to the board. Then, I read your blog yesterday and learned his children do not attend Lee County Public Schools. What!? Someone running for the School Board and they do not send their school age children to our public schools??? Well, I re-evaluated my list of candidates rather quickly!

    The Tax issue really surprises me. The 55% majority must be non-property owners or very short sighted individuals. Taxes on property are going to go up now to support the school renovations – how much and when is just to be decided.

  3. Ty Stumpf says:

    It is, of course, easy to defeat a proposed tax since many people have a notion that they are taxed too much. However, the real question is what services are people willing to give up that the government currently offers to have lower taxes. “Right leaning” types like the commenter above get to ride the emotional argument of “aren’t you tired of paying taxes” all the way to another defeat. Sure, most people are tired of paying taxes, but most people appreciate having schools to educate them, roads to carry them, and police to protect them; all of these are funded by taxes. These are all things that require taxpayer investment. Taxes are investments in our community, not punishments.

    Groups like JLf and the “Americans for Prosperity” don’t offer solutions; they simply repeat the same mantra about how bad the government is. The irony of course, is that we are the government.

    The above groups won this election. And, Lee County lost.

  4. jayriley says:

    You should spend some time reading the Locke reports on individual county spending that were released before the primary. They not only provided the information to show that we are taxed more heavily than our neighbors, but they also showed ways to raise the capital & cut spending, to find the money that the county was looking for in the first place, so we can play catch-up on the repair problems that should have been maintained, and not neglected, in the first place.

  5. bhorner3 says:

    Some of the Locke Foundation’s points in that “Regional Brief” were very misleading, especially if viewed in proper context. I’m not sure if your comment was directed at Ty or myself, but The Herald’s editorial board raised most, if not all, of those issues with members of the “Fair Tax” group (which included County Manager John Crumpton and some elected officials) and the $10.6 million they claim the county could “save” (if I recall the figure correctly) is, for lack of a better term, a pipe dream. It’s just not realistic. One long-time JLF supporter (and former county commissioner) told me that particular regional brief unfortunately contained some of the worst conclusions and most misleading math of anything ever to come out of the organization. It raised some legitimate questions and addressed issues which have been “under-addressed” by our election officials, but as a whole it contained more bark than bite. Now, I’m a fan of the Locke Foundation and I’ve read many of the groups reports and briefs, most of which are well thought-out. But as we said in our endorsement of the sales tax, the conclusions this time around were designed to arouse fear of the tax. (In defense of the Foundation, you can go back to my posting of our editorial on the AFP/JLF “mayday event” and read comments by JLF staff members to rebut our editorial.)

  6. jayriley says:

    I apologize, Bill. The comment I had was in response to the previous post. But personally, as a voter, I felt most of the fear was brought on by the “pro-tax” crowd. From the beginning I was inundated with statements that “if you don’t buy us a cup of coffee a day, Lee Senior is going to become a pile of rubble AND if that means we raise your property taxes 3%, so be it”. That is just not based in reality. I was also turned off by the reluctance of our elected officials to commit themselves to using the proceeds towards Lee Senior. That was the case at first, but a few weeks later nobody could honestly tell anyone where this windfall would be appropriated. While I know this money could never be officially designated for the catch-up maintenance of the high school, there could have at least been re-assurance that it would take priority. Instead, we were constantly reminded that the tax was “for the kids” with no assurances that once the crises had been averted that we the taxpayers would celebrate by being rewarded with an equal sales tax reduction. But we all know that once you give your government a little extra pocket change, they always find a way to sink into the budget and years later they hope we forget we ever had that 1/4 cent off. I think its also fair to point out that 20 of the 22 counties that voted on the General Assembly approved sales tax rejected the tax. So Lee County cannot be singled out for our unfavorable response to this proposal. I do appreciate the Herald’s coverage of this primary and have been able to form my own opinion thanks in part to the information provided. I do hope and pray that a consensus can be reached on how to fund the much needed maintenance out of our current budget and find a way to create checks & balances so this neglect does not happen again.

  7. Dennie Angel says:

    I am not sure why Mr. Stumpf is so upset over this tax not passing. I can’t figure out if it’s the fact that he may have to teach in a freshly painted classroom at the Jonesboro campus, or if he is upset that this tax was defeated by the Democrats that came to vote on Tuesday. I must admit that I was very surprised that the Democrats in Lee County feel like they are paying too much in taxes. This just goes to show you that trying to confuse the public with a “Fair Tax”, forming a committee lead by the Chamber, buying full page ads in the paper, and sending out mailers cannot compete with good ole common sense.

    By the way if you want to see an emotional argument, check out clips of Stumpf you can find on YouTube. I find them lacking professionalism…

    My question is this; my question is this, Have any of the ProTax Commenters done the research on what it would take to do a little painting on either campus? What about fixing a roof or replacing windows? Do ceiling tiles really cost millions of dollars to replace? Are the trailers that sit behind most of the schools in Lee County better than the brick buildings we want to tear down? Last but not least, can I buy the old buildings you guys want to replace? I would like to make condos out of them and sell them for $200,000.00 a classroom. That’s what happened to St. Clair School after it was deemed unfit for education.

    Call that show rezoned on HGTV we’re flippin’ schools,

    Dennie Angel

  8. Chad Adams says:

    Interesting running commentary. At JLF we DO look at and propose solutions. An honest appraisal of the current high school situation was badly needed in this instance and simply wasn’t provided. When asked how much should be spent to renovate, answers ranged from $10 million to as high as $25 million, that’s not an informed public.
    Another solution would have been to bring a bond referendum before the voters. In so doing the exact purpose of the money would have been spelled out and the voters would know that the money was going to be used for the high-school. Such a suggestion was ignored and several pro-sales tax folks said such a proposal would fail. But it would have at least been more honest.
    We should also be wary of how much debt Lee County already has and assuming more would make our debt load exceed desirable limits as set forth by the Local Government Commission and verified by the County Manager. This was never discussed during the debate, but is factual.
    Debt and tax burden are important issues. Nobody, not even JLF, would say that all taxes are bad. They are necessary to pay for governmental services. The budget is more than just schools and school debt, it is a sum total. Establishing priorities and the limits on expenditures is necessary to run a local government in a responsible manner. That sometimes means NOT funding other areas and funding high-priority areas. Our tax burden is high and growing with respect to our neighboring counties. We need to make some tough choices and we need to create a collaborative effort to solve our problems.

  9. bhorner3 says:

    From an e-mail message I received commenting about me and the posting:

    “Wow, those are some pretty sour grapes. Sounds like he needs a big hug from
    papa smurf.”

  10. rick says:

    It is a shame that additional information could not have been included on the actual ballot. I (for one) received very little advertising regarding the sales tax proposal. (Interestingly enough, I _DID_ get an automated phone call from Lee Co. Schools reminding me to return my pre-census form — but nothing about the sales tax.

    I think that if the ballot had specified how the tax was to be used it would have passed (or at least been much closer). When you walk into the poll and are simply handed a ballot that says “Do you want to increase taxes?” of course most people will vote “no.”

    What’s the alternative? Having yearly multi-million dollar bond referendums (like Wake county) that will burden us for years to come? Maybe we can try again in the Fall.

  11. Ty Stumpf says:

    I do feel the need to briefly respond to an above comment or two. One of the above commentators attempts to cloud the issue a bit by questioning my ethos. I will confess that the first point is a bit confusing, the claim that perhaps I am upset that I’d have to “teach in a freshly painted classroom.” Let’s set aside the fact that I’ve never taught at the Jonesboro campus nor never will. I have taught in a prison before, and I have found the facilities much more conducive to learning and to basic safety than what I have observed at the Jonesboro campus. I would simply encourage anyone to visit the Jonesboro campus and then decide if updates are needed. I’d dare say most would agree that the problems go far beyond paint. And, no, for the record, I have no qualms with freshly painted rooms.

    Secondly, the same commentator attempts to question my ethos by suggesting that there are clips of me that “lack professionalism.” If anyone has the time to look for me on YouTube (which I am flattered by), they will see that I sent in two questions into the CNN Republican debates. On one question, I dared ask if any of the presidential candidates want to apologize for voting for George W. Bush (if they did). There’s the controversy. There’s my scandal.

    While I applaud the commentator’s ability to use Google, the truth is, I’m not the point. In fact, no one person is the point. The point is, there are needs at LCHS and at CCCC’s Jonesboro campus that must be addressed in some way. This is not a question of paint and YouTube; it’s a question of how our community should take care of students who are simply trying to receive a quality education and how we pay for that. I felt comfortable with the sales tax, as did Mr. Horner, as did the Sanford Chamber of Commerce, and so on. Since the sales tax failed, we have to look back, find out why it failed, and find a way to make this work. I do agree with many of the comments above about why the tax failed, and I still stand by my earlier comment.

    Students deserve a decent, safe place to go to school. Learning is hard enough without challenging students with a less-than-decent environment. I vote that our community should invest in our students, and in this case, that means through actual funds. Each educated student will return our investment with profits that greatly outweigh any quarter-cent-sales tax that we would incur.

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