The political landscape is littered with gracious winners and humbled losers. But no matter which candidate came out on top, Columbia County came out a big winner in Tuesday's elections.
Voters by a wide margin renewed the sales tax, kept the county's sheriff and elected a new chief magistrate and superior court judge. They also turned out a veteran state senator and sent a wakeup message to a veteran county commissioner.
The result? What's good about Columbia County will improve, and some concerns about government operations will get attention. Here are some afterthoughts now that the local races are over:
In the sales tax referendum, almost 69 percent of voters voiced their approval. That's down from the 76 percent of voters who backed the sales tax five years ago.
Rather than reflect negatively on the sales tax itself, though, the slightly lower vote is probably an indication of the lack of a significant big-ticket item in the $100 million list of sales tax projects. Five years ago, voters were excited about the construction of a new main library; the new round of sales tax will pay for more common projects, such as soccer fields and fire stations.
Interestingly, though, residents from the rural western end of the county again gave the lowest overall approval for the sales tax, just as they did five years ago when the perception was that the biggest chunk of the money was going to build an asset in Evans. This time, much of the money will be spent on fire and public safety projects in the rural community -- but the tax still got a lukewarm reception there.
Of course, it still passed with 59 percent of the vote at the Eubank Blanchard precinct, which will soon benefit from a new fire station funded by the sales tax. The vast majority of voters still know a good deal when they see one.
Sheriff Clay Whittle's stunning 76 percent of the vote against a well-organized, well-funded opponent is a sign that the citizens of Columbia County are safe and secure. No matter how attractive the opponent, voters aren't inclined to throw away a good thing.
The only danger is that Whittle will accept the overwhelming mandate without admitting there are still a small core of voters who'd like to see change. Sure, some of those changes aren't going to happen because they just flat aren't good for the county. But Whittle needs to spend more time out in the community; he needs to beef up the number of volunteer reserve officers; and he should raise the profile of drug enforcement efforts.
His challenger, Lewis Blanchard, didn't have what it takes to convince voters to leave Whittle's support. But by forcing Whittle to spend more time in front of his constituents, Blanchard has already improved the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
A trusted veteran like Whittle, Diane Ford should also have expected to cruise to victory. Instead, she barely survived a challenge from a young, inexperienced newcomer.
Fortunately Ford can see the change in the wind that nearly swept her from her County Commission post. She wanted a final term to see the library and other projects through to their completion, and voters gave it to her. Now, she's in a giving mood herself, offering to take challenger Greg Kernaghan under her wing, give him opportunities to gain political experience and possibly back him as her successor in 2008.
It's a classy move -- and for Kernaghan, if he wants to serve, it's an offer he'd be crazy to refuse.
So, what's next? There's a runoff in three weeks, but not in any local races; the only three-way contests resulted in victories for the county's new chief magistrate, Wade Padgett, and for the Augusta Judicial Circuit's new judge, Sheryl Jolly.
For most voters, then, it's on to November -- with two school board races, the rest of the District 24 state Senate race and a bunch of state and national elections.
If voters in the rest of the country could only choose as wisely as Columbia Countians, perhaps those elections will make us all winners, too.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.