Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

When it comes to interest in local government, actual power has been trumped by potential influence. The vacant mayor’s post, a position that doesn’t have a vote on any municipal matters (barring ties) but serves as the figurehead for the city, has four candidates. The two expiring council positions, which can directly approve budgets and policies, have just one candidate each.

Even Deborah Cochran, a sitting commissioner not hesitant to vote against spending items, is interested in giving up a regular vote for the mayor’s post. Cochran issued this statement Friday, the last day to file, announcing her intentions. She’ll face off against Paul Eich, Gene Clark and Teresa Lewis in a Oct. 6 primary that will cost the city around $10,000, with the top two vote getters advancing to the general election. Mount Airy’s elections laws are the only ones that call for primaries when there’s more than two candidates for a seat.

Yet neither primaries nor really general elections are much needed to determine who will fill the two open council seats. Incumbent Jon Cawley is the only one vying for the North Ward seat and  Steve Yokeley is the only one seeking the South Ward seat David Beal is vacating.

As for the mayoral candidates new to local politics, Eich is the one well-known to anyone who attends council meetings. He’s been at almost every one for the past year and a half and often speaks during the public forum sections. His positions are very conservative when it comes to fiscal matters, as he has advocated laying off employees, cutting back employee compensation and eliminating the city’s manager’s contract in order to reduce taxes. He’s no stranger to elections, having run in 2001 and 2003 for an at-large council seat in Charlotte. Neither bid was successful, but he made a strong showing both times.

Clark is a high ranking officials with furniture company Ligna who issued this statement announcing his campaign plans.  Lewis, who owns temporary staffing service Workforce Carolina, released this statement Tuesday on the day she filed citing her considerable experience with numerous community organizations as qualifications for mayor.

In the last four years Mount Airy’s municipal elections have gone from 2005’s no-opponent snoozer to 2007’s lively field of challengers. This year it’s a little of both. Given the multitude of fiscal and economic issues facing the city, can a strong mayor make a difference? And who would be the candidate best able to utilize the position’s influence?

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Elkin’s elections got a bit of drama at the last possible hour, when Terry Kennedy put his name into the race and made for four candidates vying for three seats. He joins newcomer Cicely McCulloch and  incumbents Gambill Aldridge and Joe Walker on the ballot. Harold Lee Wagoner, a board member for decades, is stepping down.

All four candidates are owners of businesses in town, with McCulloch a co-owner of Diana’s Bookstore, Walker owning AllStar Rentals, Aldridge owning Basin Creek Realty and Kennedy owning Kennedy Land and Homes.

Given all the debate regarding Fibrowatt, I was honestly surprised some new candidate didn’t run on that issue and make for a more competitive field. But even with just four candidates, someone will have to be the odd one out in this race. Will it be one of the newcomers or could an incumbent actually be ousted?

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Four years ago Dobson’s municipal elections were about as boring as you can get, with all the incumbents running unopposed. Not so this year, with six candidates vying for just two commissioner seats and Kenneth Earnest challenging two-time incumbent Mayor Ricky Draughn. The rundown of commissioner candidates includes former board member Kermit Draughn, recent commissioner appointee Wayne Atkins and newcomers Ron Atkins, Jonathan Snow, John Lawson and Ted Ring.

Maybe the interest in elected leadership reflects the loss of administrative leadership in the past couple of months. Town Manager Lynn Burcham remains on suspension pending the results of a DA and SBI investigation into alleged misuse of funds. The town has contracted with a private company to help run things in the meantime, but it’s nonetheless meant a more hands-on role for elected officials as they piece together projects to expand water and sewer infrastructure. Are the Draughns still the best ones for the job given their experience or is it time for some new leadership?

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We won’t see any changes to Pilot Mountain’s elected leadership based on the filings. The two incumbents — four-term veteran Carolyn Boyles and Andrew French, who was appointed to fill out Mayor Earl Sheppard’s term last year — are the only ones to put their names in the ring thus far. In 2007, 2005, and 2003, these races were competitive however. What’s more, this  happens to be one of the more dynamic periods for Pilot Mountain, with projects to create an education and value-added agricultural hub called The Pilot Center along with improvements to downtown all in the works. Could a write-in candidate emerge?

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swearing-in4Today’s Messenger cover story, like just about every newspaper cover story in the nation revolves around the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Looking at the election and the previous campaign through a local lens, two things stand out. The first is that Obama’s Surry County supporters were vocal and passionate, the second is that it was a group distinctly in the minority. Local returns from both the Democratic primary and the general election show that Obama was nowhere near the majority choice among local voters. But whether he got their vote or not, Obama is the president for all of Surry County. Whether policies at the local government level snych up with his national stimulus plan could go a long way in determining whether he’s ever embraced by the majority of county residents.

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Hitting the news just before election day, the widely criticized $700 billion bailout of the financial sector may have given local Congresswomen Virginia Foxx a boost. Her opponent took a nuanced view of the bailout legislation’s pros and cons, while Foxx vehemently shot the bill down. Soon after, she won reelection by a margin above her 2006 reelection even in a year when the Republican Party was very much a toxic brand. The margin was also above what a summer poll of the district indicated.

Now Foxx has followed up that stance by proposing a resolution that effectively cuts the bailout funds to $350 billion. Her comments focus on the lack of planning and oversight regarding use of the funds, which have now been proposed for industries and assets not discussed during the original bailout vote.

The bill is currently sitting in committee. And it’s not alone. More than a half dozen similar bills were filed the same week. They range from requiring Congressional approval for use of additional funds to making sure they help the ailing auto industry to putting more layers of oversight in place, but they all deal with the idea of undoing the authority granted in the original bailout legislation.

With a new economic team coming into office next month, I imagine we’ll see some action clarifying the size and scope of the ever evolving bailout(s). The odds that Foxx’s resolution gets out of committee, especially with others like it in both chambers, could depend on how much the new administration wants to change direction on the plan the Bush administration first proposed.

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Regardless of statewide voting that saw Democrat Kay Hagan win comfortably and Barack Obama win very marginally, Surry County still gave a resounding nod to the GOP. 

Take a look at the breakdown of votes by county and it’s clear that the northwest Piedmont was very much McCain country. Here in Surry, every Republican running for state or federal office did better here when compared to the district or state as a whole.

Democrats have gained pockets of support in the municipalities — which can be seen in the breakdowns of straight ticket voting or the Dole/Hagan race — and the number voting Democrat in the presidential race is up slightly from 2004. But there’s no spinning the fact that Republicans are still strong across the board, even though they aren’t in the majority in terms of voter registration. They even managed to elect one of their own, Sarah Stevens, to a House seat held by a three-term incumbent in Jim Harrell whose district leans Democratic.

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By now most political followers in Mount Airy have heard about Andy Griffith’s endorsement of Barack Obama, and by “endorsement” I mean his appearance in a video masterminded by Ron Howard that recreates a scene from The Andy Griffith show to demonstrate its Democratic support. The full clip can be seen here and, in my opinion, the spoof of Happy Days with Henry Winkler is far funnier.

What’s interesting is how fast word of Mount Airy’s “reaction” can spread, showing just how captive our public image is to the Mayberry brand. It goes like this, the Winston-Salem Journal does a quick story about locals reaction that only interviews a few people to come to the conclusion that folks here are unhappy about the clip. The article gets picked up by the Associated Press and within 24 hours it’s running in Charlotte, in Hendersonville, in northern Virginia, in Greenville (there they say it’s creating quite a stir) in Salisbury, and in Myrtle Beach. I could keep going, but you get the point.

What’s locals’ real reaction? Well everyone I ask has a different take, especially since it’s no secret that Griffith likes to publicly endorse Democrats. You’d have to interview more than a few people to get a true barometer. Just like you have to look beyond Mayberry to get a taste of Mount Airy’s true colors. But in the world of mass media, our identity gets shaped lightening quick to the outsiders looking in.

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In a race without campaign websites, series of campaign events or even catchy slogans, the Paul Johnson v Eddie Brown battle for county commissioner has been defined in large part by a war of words in print. Here’s a quick synopsis of our letters to the editor referencing this race (along with links to each). If I left one out, please let me know and I’ll edit it into the post.

First we have a response here to negative radio ads Johnson has run, defending Brown’s record in regard to land dealings. That drew a rebuttal saying the accusations are backed up by facts. Johnson was attacked himself in a letter here criticizing his management of county employees and of his own finances.

Both candidates got ringing endorsements as well speaking of their past accomplishments, Brown’s here and Johnson’s here. Craig Hunter, chairman of the county commissioners, weighed in with a lengthy account of Johnson’s record on the board that endorses his candidacy.

Still several days to go before the election. I’m sure more letters will arrive on this heated race. Read our preview here.

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We’re hitting crunch time when it comes to voter registration, with the deadline on Friday. Since the Democratic primary in May, 1,666 new voters have registered in Surry, almost evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and those unaffiliated. Take a look at county registration stats over the past year and it’s evident that the latter group, independents, is experiencing the largest growth. Compared to 2004, that demographic is up almost 25 percent in Surry, perhaps reflecting North Carolina’s recent battleground state status.

With the number of Democratic and Republican registrations almost even in Surry, those independents will go a long way in deciding who the county supports for state and national races.

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