Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011: The rise of the Independents / winners & losers in Augusta County

Now that the dust has settled from Election Day 2011, it's interesting to see that the very Republican 6th Congressional District of Virginia lost a number of seats to Independents, many with former Republican ties.

On Election Day, Bearing Drift ran updates on statewide races from boots-on-the-ground correspondents throughout the Commonwealth including Augusta County. This was posted at mid-day:
(Update – 12:30 PM – Lynn Mitchell/Chris Saxman) Workers inside the polls in Augusta County are reporting heavy turnout. Is that trend holding statewide?

From Chris: There are several heavily contested races here in Augusta County for the Board of Supervisors. Two former chairmen of their respective parties – Kurt Michael and Marshall Pattie are running as Independents along with other Independents like David Karaffa. The primary issue goes back to a botched tax assessment and turnout is expected to be high. This is a very interesting case study in the growing trend towards independents running outside of the party structures. I expect several if not all of them to win.
Indeed, Chris' prediction came true in that three of the Independents won, and the fourth almost won. It was the rise of the Independents in this reddest part of Virginia -- two former Democrats and two former Republicans who were more interested in what was in the best interest of the citizens instead of Party politics and political infighting.

When a former Augusta County Republican chairman and former Augusta County Democratic chairman join forces along with an incumbent supervisor who was formerly a Democrat (and who easily won reelection) and a former Augusta County Republican magisterial district chairman, it speaks volumes.

Not good for Augusta County Republican chairman Bill Shirley who has made it a point over the past three years to purge hard working volunteers from the party, and who would not talk with two excellent conservative candidates who ended up running as Independents. Out of four contested supervisor races, he lost three of them. Game changer?

In a list of winners and losers in Augusta County, the winners were definitely the Independents.

Tracy Pyles and the Independent slate of candidates: Former Democrat Tracy Pyles, 60, was the big winner with his slate of Independent candidates. Three of the four won -- David Karaffa, Marshall Pattie, and Pyles -- and the fourth, Kurt Michael, made a very strong 47% showing against the outgoing supervisor's hand-picked successor.

Pyles, a rock star in his rural western Augusta Pastures District -- perhaps best described as the "Wild West" of Augusta in an area that includes the Jefferson National Forest -- has battled the "Gang of 6" on the Augusta Board of Supervisors the past eight years. He worked to ensure that budget proposals were actually read and to prevent rubber-stamping of items, much to the chagrin of the other supervisors who then publicly painted him as contentious. Tracy won't be fighting them alone anymore. In fact, only one of them is returning.

The four Independents all participated in the protest against the 2009 botched real estate assessment issue in Augusta County when 10,600 citizens signed petitions asking supervisors to roll back assessments to be more in line with current selling prices. More than 1,000 citizens turned out at a supervisor meeting where most felt that supervisors responded with an arrogant air and did not take their concerns seriously.

The rise of the Independents, especially in such a Republican area, shows that conservative voters want competent people in office who know the issues and have a vision for the future. Has this election started a trend?

David Karaffa: This 28-year-old rising conservative star took on the Republican chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors with issues, ideas, a vision for the future, and hard work ... and won. He has hit the ground running as he prepares to take his seat on the board in January. Also involved in the 2009 real estate assessment issue and a married father of two, David is used to responsibility and decision-making. In his job as a critical cardiac RN at Augusta Health, he faces critical decisions on a regular basis. As a small business owner, he knows the challenges that are unique to that part of the community. As the son of a medical doctor with a large extended family, he grew up participating in discussions around the dining room table where he was challenged to debate and defend his point of view on issues. David will take those debating, problem-solving skills with him to the job at the Government Center.

Marshall Pattie: Former Democratic chairman in Augusta County, Marshall ran as an Independent when he found he didn't fit in with the local Democrats. A professor at nearby James Madison University, this 32-year-old married father of one lives in the rural northwestern corner of the county. He won in a three-way race with over 60% of the vote in State Senator Emmett Hanger's back yard. Thoughtful with a skill for problem solving, laid back and easy going, he came into the political arena in 2009 during the real estate assessment issue and promises to be someone to contend with in the future.

Kurt Michael: Even though he did not prevail in his supervisor race, I'm including this 48-year-old charismatic, hard-working leader in the list of winners. As the former Augusta County Republican Committee chairman and a Shenandoah Valley Governor's School teacher, his grasp of the mind-boggling issues and problems facing an ever-growing Augusta County is admirable, and he won the endorsement of the two local newspapers, the Staunton News Leader and the Waynesboro News Virginian. In the midst of a local mindset that in many respects doesn't want to see change, his personal experience watching students leave to attend college and not return home to the Valley because of the lack of jobs spurred him to include economic development as part of his reason for seeking public office. The fire and emergency problems at Yancey Fire Department also spurred him to step in and find solutions for the safety of not only his family and neighbors but for all Augusta residents. His long list of achievements and public service for the past 20 years including his part in organizing citizens to protest the botched 2009 real estate assessments shows that he is just coming into his own. After a strong 47% showing on election day, falling only 126 votes short of a win, watch for Kurt to be back in some form of leadership.

Independents in other parts of the Commonwealth: From Pittsylvania County to Botetourt to Henrico to Shenandoah to Bedford and Campbell County, Republicans left local committees to endorse Independents that they considered the better candidates. That included Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, House Speaker William Howell, and various General Assembly members, Constitutional officers, and others.

New Augusta County BOS members: Those who prevailed were Republicans Michael Shull, former supervisor Larry Wills, incumbent David Beyeler, and Jeff Moore.

Returning Republican General Assembly members: State Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegates Steve Landes and Ben Cline were unopposed, and Del. Dickie Bell had minimum opposition.

The Augusta County Republican Committee under Bill Shirley was the worst loser by letting three out of four contested supervisor seats slip away. Under his leadership, the county Republicans have seen their numbers decline the past three years as Shirley kicked off dozens of hardworking volunteers for his own political purposes. Shirley's refusal to work with former chairman Kurt Michael and former magisterial district chairman David Karaffa exposed that he was not really concerned about finding qualified candidates who carried the conservative message he professed to believe. Shirley's losses Tuesday night go beyond the three lost supervisor seats and could impact the future of Republican politics in the Shenandoah Valley.

Whiny local blogger: A 50-something whiner who was part of Shirley's Republican Committee diminished himself with his outdated tactics of false personal attacks and faux commenters. His vitriol influenced a local newspaper's decision to hold commenters accountable by posting through Facebook. Perhaps it's time for him to look around and note that the blogosphere has grown up over the past six years. Maybe he should, too.

Whiny local emailer: Relentless false attacks diminished a retired and obviously bored emailer's standing and credibility in the conservative community. Also a member of Shirley's Republican Committee, it's too bad he wallowed in the mud considering he actually had some good researching abilities. Fail.

1 comment:

Bob K. said...

Lynn, Tuesday's election was nothing less than historic as a group of energetic independent candidates sucessfully kept the campaign about issues.

There are mny good lessons to be learned from the hard work of David Karaffa, Marshall Pattie, Kurt Michael and Tracy Pyles. Perhaps the most important is that concerned citizens working together can indeed trump "business as usual."