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The "nuts and bolts" of the County Council election process

A Column by the Editor
web posted March 28, 2008
COLUMN – Republican Senator Shane Massey’s wining campaign slogan of “Shake up Columbia” may have filtered down to his base constituency in Edgefield County as it seems things may be set for a “shake up” of the Edgefield County Council. The political races in Edgefield County have grown to a fervor unseen in the county in decades. A flurry of activity has taken place over the past week with eight challengers either filing or contemplating filing in four of the five county council districts with a ninth being in talks to run in the last unchallenged district. The unbelievable numbers of potential candidates sends stern messages to incumbents; the voters are not happy with the present entrenched leadership and want a change. 

At present count two county council seats, District 5 in Merriwether and District 2, the Westside/Edgefield area, have challengers. Genia Blackwell has filed as a Republican in Merriwether. Four term incumbent Joel Hudson has not filed to date but has scheduled to meet with Republican Party Officials by Saturday and is expected to file for his fifth term. Three term incumbent Everett Kitchens has filed as a Republican as has his challenger Rodney Ashcraft. Voters in both districts are heavily angered due to being hardest hit by the huge increases in assessments that increased their taxes as much as 300% on their homes and remember being ignored when they turned to an unresponsive county council for relief.

Two years ago Dennis Zachow ran a short write-in campaign against Joel Hudson due to the protest and took an extraordinary one third of the vote. Those votes will not be in the Hudson column again this year and, when challenged by Republican candidate Danny Bishop, Hudson’s wins were mostly obtained by less than two dozen votes with a less than popular candidate running against him. Running against Genia Blackwell, who is nationally recognized for her financial acuity and leadership abilities in addition to respected ties to the community, will make this an interesting race that will hinge more on Hudson’s voting record, his opponents credentials, and voter dissatisfaction.

A swing of just 45 votes could unseat Hudson making him among the most vulnerable of candidates.

County Council District 2 Republican incumbent Everett Kitchens faces a formidable challenge from Rodney Ashcraft, also a Republican. In 2006 Ashcraft ran an independent weeklong write-in campaign that drew nearly 30% of the vote. Like Hudson, Kitchens can be assured those votes will not go his way in the primary on a Republican ticket vote and Ashcraft needs to garner just 20% of the Republican vote to unseat Kitchens. With no Democrat candidate it opens an avenue for cross party voting which could supply more than enough votes to pull off a win. 

This places Kitchens as another vulnerable candidate ripe for unseating with a core constituency displeased with his voting record.

County Council District 1 has seen the most activity with several potential candidates jostling for position and weighing their options. Incumbent Norman Dorn has filed as a Democrat in the race already and there are talks between two others interested in running against him as a Democrat. The bottom line is Mr. Dorn will face a challenger in the Democrat Primary on June 10 according to one of the proposed candidates who has sworn to run.

According to information confirmed on Thursday three others have shown an interest in filing as Republicans in District 1, with one of the three confirming he would be filing today and a second still weighing the options with a decision to come by the weekend. No contact has been made with the third individual.

A one on one challenge in the local Democrat Primary by a single candidate could put Dorn out of the race early. However, a three way split on the Democrat and Republican ticket could throw the race into unchartered waters. Three Democrats would force a run-off if no one takes 50% plus one vote in the primary to win the nomination outright. The same would hold true for the Republican candidates.

Dorn, who relies heavily on absentee voting for a contingent of his voters is under close scrutiny and lists have been compiled for verification purposes. Some within the local parties have brought a new level of checks and balance that has not been seen before.

This is the first time Mr. Dorn will have to face opposition in the newly drawn district that diluted his political base. District 1 now reaches into the Westside area and crosses over into the Johnston area, diluting his core base from a near 80% Democrat stronghold to an almost even split of Democrat and Republicans.

Some Republicans have stated they would cross over to vote in the Democrat Primary to unseat Dorn and then return to their party for the November election. With a split in the Democrat vote and the inclusion of Republicans crossing over Dorn could find himself as an observer in the general election.

Long-time County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece is likely to face a challenge on the Democrat ticket from a fellow Johnston resident. Though confirmed to EdgefieldDaily.com of the certain challenge, the proposed candidate has yet to turn in the paperwork received in order to file to run. A surprise candidate contacted EdgefieldDaily.com Thursday night that may be filing as a Republican. It is doubtful that a Republican could win in the district, but early cross over votes could make Chairman Kneece’s nomination questionable. With no Republican opposition, it takes only one vote to move the Republican candidate forward to the General election and cross over votes in the primary could be a huge impact on the Democrat winner.

Long-term Vice Chairman Willie Bright is also vulnerable to a possible last minute filing. The Bettis Academy area is suffering from a split of powerful church that has been a catalyst for unity in voting. This split has disrupted the political machine in the area and makes Mr. Bright vulnerable to opposition from either race or political party.

Though County Council District 4 shows a population of a majority of minority voters, the district includes the State Prison in Trenton and when inmates, who cannot vote, are removed from the count the district turns to a majority white population. If one of the two showing an interest in running goes forward it would be an unprecedented challenge in all five districts in a single election year.

The reality began to set in with incumbents about midweek that voters could overturn a majority of seats on the county council and create a tidal wave of change across the political spectrum that has not been seen in the county since Reconstruction.

All appointments to committees, the administration, department heads, and other agencies could face a major restructuring. Control of the county council could lie with newcomers who have all promised to make changes rather than maintain the status quo that has stifled progress in the county for over a decade in what many describe as the “good ole boy” system of government. Those entrenched in the system are just as worried as the incumbents that fear losing the control.

At first the incumbents were not worried until they saw the onslaught of voter dissatisfaction that has presented itself like never before and they have quietly begun to circle the wagons trying to protect each other including encouraging one who stated he would not run for re-election to reconsider.

It appears the plan, which includes candidates across party lines coordinating together to unseat incumbents in the June 10 primary, is to give voters choices of new candidates from both parties in the November General Election. The beauty of the plan is that it was not a plan conceived and then launched, but one that has emerged as potential candidates began talking with each other as the filing date closing drew near.

Unseen in other elections before is the race barrier not being a barrier anymore nor is political party choice. Republicans are agreeing to vote across party lines in some races and Democrats are agreeing to do the same in others. With no state or national draw for party politics in the primary, voters see an opportunity to effect change on a local level in a grand scale and can do so without neglecting their party loyalties in the General Election.

How will things shake out over the next three days is anyone’s guess.

EdgefieldDaily.com will have a full report of candidates that have filed on Monday and will then begin contacting each for an interview and will feature a special section that will run throughout the election giving all candidates ample opportunity to make their case as to why they feel they are the best choice to be elected or re-elected to office.


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