As promised, here’s some analysis of Tuesday’s city election:
Sadly there isn’t much to say about the results because nothing much has changed. The people of LaFayette (those who vote anyway) said overwhelmingly that they’re happy with the way things are. Those who voted for the status quo will get exactly that, and they deserve it – but the rest of us who voted against the city’s stagnant leadership will be dragged along with them.
With twenty years of underperformance on his resumè, mayor-for-life Neal Florence won his latest term 652 to 301, a margin greater than 2 to 1. As with the council candidates, Florence shows that it doesn’t matter how badly you do your job as long as you’re friends with the right people. LaFayette’s government doesn’t meet the needs of a majority of its residents, but bends over backwards to give the right people what they want – a tactic that greatly rewards the city’s leadership.
Mayor-wannabe James Mashburn didn’t do himself any favors with an underwhelming campaign that couldn’t get yard signs up until mid-October. Moreover, he failed to exhibit any spark or voice new ideas to separate himself from the current mayor. The professional tree cutter really had just two qualities that made him an attractive candidate: he was willing to run and he isn’t Neal Florence. Hopefully between now and November 2013 a viable candidate will emerge and present a strong challenge. At this rate Florence will die in office before anyone manages to put up a real fight against him – but even dead he would still probably get a majority of the vote from the 10% of LaFayette’s population that bothers to participate in elections.
Despite being arrested last year while researching liquor by the drink, eight-year council member and golf fanatic Norm Hodge also won by a vast margin. Councilman Andy Arnold squeaked out a win with only 30 votes more that his opponent. Considering the wide margins enjoyed by the mayor and Hodge, this is a bad sign for Arnold – he must have pottied in somebody’s cheerios to get so close to losing a race so otherwise dominated by incumbents.
Long-time city judge Barry Hollis lost to challenger Kenneth Maples by 46 ballots. This was not unexpected since most of the hand-lettered “KEEP Hollis” signs were spotted in vacant lots and in front of drug dealer’s houses. (Hint: never vote for the judge drug dealers prefer.)
The biggest issue on this year’s ballot was, of course, liquor by the drink. While many would say it was also the most important, we already stated the case towards it being a non-issue that makes no difference to the city’s long-term future. Either way, the measure was voted down by only 22 votes.
Media reports and both sides of the liquor issue are crediting this defeat to the city’s churches.
Church leaders basking in the secular spotlight can assure their congregations this meaningless political victory has accomplished something, thus relieving them of any future responsibility to help the community in a meaningful way.
Actual credit for voting down liquor goes to the mayor and city council, specifically Councilman Eric Tallent. Tallent is the one who called for the measure to include not just beer and wine but all liquor, structuring the vote in a way that guaranteed its defeat. That ensured enough opposition from church leaders, parents, and anti-drunk-drinking groups to kill the whole thing.
Not even Wayne Winters, the biggest (and most vocal) proponent for liquor sales was asking the council to approve mixed drinks or liquor. As he said in May, “that is not what the restaurant owners in town requested. They want beer and wine.” But the council went beyond what anyone had actually asked for and called for a vote that would allow any kind of alcohol to be served. An even-handed approach would have been a ballot with options for beer and wine, all liquor, or no alcohol at all – a situation likely leading to beer and wine sales legalized within the city limits. (The defeat of a beer-and-wine-only measure would probably have forced the council to end beer sales at the golf course, something they have absolutely no desire to do.)
By putting in place a non-binding vote that was sure to fail, the council took care of several problems at once: silencing critics who continually brought up the beer issue at council meetings, placating church voters by keeping alcohol sales out, keeping beer available at the golf course, and keeping alive a scapegoat for the council to hang its failures on. Any economic struggles or strife can now be blamed on the absence of liquor within the city; further insulating the council from any criticism for their lack of action to preserve what’s left of the city.
WINNERS: Neal Florence, Norm Hodge, liquor-opposing churches, status-quo
LOSERS: Liquor proponents, Barry Hollis, the 80% of LaFayette not represented by the council
HANGING BY A THREAD: Andy Arnold