Chris Graham: A new order in the offing in Augusta?
At last count, four of the seven-member board have announced that they won’t be running for re-election, with Board Chair Jeremy Shifflett and Pastures Supervisor Tracy Pyles confirmed to be in the running and South River Supervisor David Beyeler either expected to announce his intention to run for another term (according to some) or join the parade of retirees (according to others).
The balance of power could be shifting in the direction of Pyles, a Democrat who has forged an interesting coalition with former Augusta County Republican Chairman Kurt Michael, former Augusta County Democratic Chairman Marshall Pattie and local Tea Party veteran David Karaffa.
Karaffa is the only member of the group who will face an incumbent, Shifflett, a Republican who narrowly won election in 2007 (by 16 votes over Democrat Lee Godfrey) in the Beverley Manor District. Pattie and Michael are both running for seats being vacated by incumbents (Pattie in North River, Michael in Wayne), and Pyles, while he has am opponent, has not seriously been challenged in his four election victories, which date back to 1995.
Pyles was the voice in the wilderness leading the charge against the controversial property reassessments in 2009 that the majority of the Board of Supervisors decided to handle by an equally controversial measure that gutted the county property-tax rate. Shifflett joined the Pyles crusade late in the game, maybe too late to sidestep criticism that he did so for political reasons. How he fares against a challenge from the right in the form of Karaffa will be one of the key storylines in the upcoming election cycle in Augusta County.
Number one on that list will be how the disparate coalition that Pyles has forged will be able to work as a team. The grouping has a better-than-even chance of forming a working majority on the Board of Supervisors come January. United as they are right now on fiscal issues, could there be room for their opponents to play a divide-and-conquer game by going all social issues on them?
Not if the quartet follows this piece of advice: Local elections, and local government, aren’t about abortion and gay marriage. To borrow from the campaign mantra that carried Bill Clinton through contentious elections in the 1990s, it’s the economy, stupid. Economic growth and balanced budgets – that’s what the voters want.