Lessons to be learned from the July 20 vote
Fayette County Republicans Tuesday ended the one-term political careers of two well-connected county commissioners and extended for another four years that of a late-blooming school board reformer.
In the process, voters resurrected the electoral fortunes of a twice-defeated former Peachtree City mayor, elevated a political novice to the county commission and sent a nearly invisible school board candidate back to civic club functions.
Steve Brown beat Chairman Jack Smith by 916 votes out of 14,122 cast in the Post 4 County Commission race — 53 percent to 47 percent.
Newcomer Allen McCarty out-polled attorney Eric Maxwell by 1,180 votes in the Post 5 contest — 54 to 46 percent.
School board member Bob Todd will now have four more years to turn his new-found tough talk on behalf of taxpayers into action. Let’s hope he stays on offense and doesn’t retreat to mute — and moot — defense again. More on his race in another column.
Tuesday's vote had to have been a nuclear shock to the county’s power structure, since Smith and Maxwell had been very publicly endorsed and supported by Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, state Senator Ronnie Chance, state Representative Matt Ramsey, ex-Sheriff Randall Johnson, Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele and four of the five members of the Fayetteville Council, two of the other three members of the County Commission, Clerk of Court Sheila Studdard and Tax Commissioner George Wingo and a veritable pantheon of who’s who in Fayette County politics.
They spent a few bucks with our paper, but they just about bought the front page of the legal organ for several weeks. Their yard signs were everywhere. Their robo-calls rang every phone to be rung in Fayette County.
All of these supposedly astute political types, and they completely missed the prevailing political winds: How could they all have been so wrong?
Is Steve Brown a compelling campaigner? No, and what little money he spent on campaigning came mostly from former Commissioner Harold Bost, so he didn’t buy his way onto the commission.
Allen McCarty was an unknown, and remains one. The one thing we know for sure about McCarty is that he wants to stop the West Fayetteville Bypass.
So what did what they — the power structure — miss in their calculations of victory?
Herewith some lessons for folks who are supposed to know these things:
1. The first is a negative: Don’t get on the wrong side of a true grassroots political movement.
The West Fayetteville Bypass is textbook waste of taxpayers’ money. It begins nowhere and goes nowhere — except to vast tracts of so-far undeveloped land in Fayette’s middle section. The only people who love that road will be the future developers of those properties. That’s $50-plus million that could have been better used elsewhere.
The waste and the continuing disrespect by Smith and Maxwell shown to the small group of anti-bypass citizens got the attention of the Tea Party supporters.
The issue resonated with an increasingly committed segment of motivated voters who saw local elected officials who seemed at best out of touch and at worst arrogant like some folks in the White House and Congress.
Guys like Smith and Maxwell and their supporters will never be true Tea Partiers because they’ve got too many well-connected friends they have to keep happy. The political world for them is divided into two parts: their friends and the rest of us. It’s the rest of us who tired of their disrespect and showed them the door.
2. The second is a directive: Get on the right side of the potent, motivating issues.
Smith had already sealed his fate with his votes on regional mass transit, up there in the boardrooms of Atlanta, far from the vox populi back here in Fayette. I can imagine the voters saying: Mr. Smith, don’t take us for fools. You say you voted for mass transit up there, but then you say your vote doesn’t really mean anything back here. You must think we are fools.
Maxwell, without those damning mass transit votes, could have staked out a strong, anti-MARTA position, criticizing his fellow commissioner for such obtuse foolishness. Maxwell could even have offered a local resolution to the commission, requiring any vote by the chairman to first be authorized by the board. He could have done any of many things to distance himself from Smith, but he chose not to.
So, he went down with Smith.
Lesson: Mass transit is toxic politics in Fayette County. Drink that Kool-Aid — at Atlanta Regional Commission board meetings or wherever — and be prepared to die at the ballot box.
Lesson: Smith and Maxwell placed themselves on the wrong side of potent issues that resonated with a motivated group of voters.
Brown and McCarty need to learn those same lessons on some other potent issues. Let ex-Mayor Brown bring up district voting again in Fayette County, and he will find himself an ex-commissioner as well.
Also, if Brown goes mucking about in the other constitutional officers’ operations, he will likewise find himself on the outside looking in. There’s plenty under the official purview of the commission to keep him busy for the next four years without going looking for extra-curricular fights.
And Mr. McCarty needs to prove himself more than a one-trick pony. Fight the bypass fight, yes; but fight FOR some worthwhile benefits to the taxpayers beyond the bypass.
To both the commissioners-elect, remember whose servant you are. I’ll be explicit: You are not put there to serve the government employees. You are put there to serve the taxpayers of this county. Sometimes — unfortunately and I hope rarely — you will find the interests of the employees will be at odds with the interests of the taxpayers.
Don’t forget who is paying the salaries of all of you. You work for us; we don’t work for you.
And one prediction: Commissioner Robert Horgan is going to surprise a lot of us. Watch for it.