Is the Waynesboro political revolution already over?

Column by Chris Graham

The numbers from the balloting in Waynesboro in yesterday’s 24th Senate District Republican Party primary jumped out at me right away.

Conservative Scott Sayre – who made his signature on a no-new-taxes pledge the centerpiece of his campaign – outpolled tax-reform advocate Emmett Hanger by more than 300 votes in the River City en route to receiving 59 percent of the votes cast in Waynesboro on Tuesday.

My first thought was that the apparent political revolution that had taken place in the 2006 city elections that had moderates Lorie Smith and Nancy Dowdy sweeping to victory over conservatives Reo Hatfield and Pat Steele had already been thrown by the wayside. As had all the analysis that I had offered afterward about how conservatives like current city-council members Frank Lucente and Tim Williams were going to have trouble in 2008 because of the changing times and changing demographics in Waynesboro that were going to make every election cycle an uphill battle for old-line conservatives.

Because you don’t have to do much cajoling to put Sayre in the Lucente-Williams camp, especially given that Williams announced last week that he was endorsing Sayre in the primary battle, and Sayre held his Primary Night party at Reo Distribution, owned by, you guessed it, Hatfield; nor do you have to do much in the way of mental gymnastics to put Hanger in the Smith-Dowdy camp.

So Sayre gets 59 percent of the vote in a two-way with Hanger – what does this mean for next year?

My initial reaction, again, was that it couldn’t be good for the moderates who currently hold a majority on city council – that factored in with the talk that the one of the three in the majority whose seat is up for re-election next year, mayor Tom Reynolds, is not interested in running for a third term next spring.

Which means that at best the moderates are going to have a political neophyte or two or three running in the spring against a conservative bloc that you would have to assume has to feel emboldened by Tuesday’s primary results.

I mean, it’s all in the numbers, right?

But looking again at the numbers, something else jumped out at me. Look at the voter turnout – 1,731 voters cast ballots in the primary, a little more than half the 3,410 who voted in the May 2006 city elections.

The reason for the lower turnout level is probably obvious – the primary was a Republican Party primary, which one would expect would cut the turnout level down by some degree, maybe not half, but then again, we got half the turnout yesterday compared to a year ago.

It doesn’t take much to sense the danger for the old-line conservatives, then, in these numbers. Because it could be argued that the great bulk of the electorate that came out yesterday were those self-identified Republicans – and that 40 percent of those self-identified Republicans don’t see eye-to-eye with the Sayre-Lucente-Williams way of looking at taxes and spending.

The question becomes – regarding that portion of the Waynesboro registered-voter base that is made up of independents and Democrats, where do they stand?

Another question – does the conventional wisdom of 2006 that Waynesboro’s demographics were changing to the favor of moderates and progressives in local elections still stand?

A third question – is that conventional wisdom itself off-base in the sense that it now seems that perhaps even self-identified Republican voters are beginning to distance themselves from the rigid fiscal-conservative orthodoxy espoused by Sayre-Lucente-Williams?

I’m not even going to attempt to answer these questions now – but they should be ripe ones for discussion as May 2008 gets nearer.

(Originally published 06-13-07)

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