New majority comes on board for county commissioners
Rejecting the idea of a board expansion, Union County voters also ensured a Republican majority on the county commission the next four years, electing Jerry Simpson, Todd Johnson and Jonathan Thomas to the positions.
“I don’t think we could have drawn up a better night,” Thomas said. “It’s the first time Union County voters had three separate parties to choose from. People sent a pretty loud message, saying we want new leadership.”
The so-called east-west divide was almost non-existent for those who came out to vote in the commissioners’ race. Simpson finished first, collecting 33,098 votes. The Waxhaw farmer and former Cooperative Extension director had support from both sides of the county, with precincts from the western Indian Trail Library to Midway Baptist Church in eastern Wingate.
“A vote total’s just a number,” Simpson said. “I’ve just been around longer.”
Finishing 488 votes behind Simpson was fellow Waxhaw resident Todd Johnson, who finished with 32,610 votes. Support for the president of Johnson Insurance Management LLC was more focused, with Johnson winning precincts in Mineral Springs, Waxhaw, Monroe and Stallings.
The third commissioner-elect, Monroe native Thomas, finished with 31,896 votes. The Autumn Care nursing center administrator also saw tightly focused support, winning precincts in Wingate, Monroe and Stallings.
Each of the three took 23 to 24 percent of the vote from an eight person field, the largest in more than 10 years and the first time Democrats and Libertarians appeared on the ballot. Finishing in fourth place was Democrat Dr. Ken Baker, followed by fellow Democrat Robin Stitt. The three Libertarian candidates rounded out the pack, beginning with Stephen Burr, then followed by Brandon Derr and Tom Hohman.
The night however belonged to the Republican candidates, as they became the latest evidence of the swinging gate that is the county commission. For the third straight election, new candidates assumed seats vacated by incumbents who either didn’t run or lost in the primary. This time around, Lanny Openshaw was defeated in the primary, while Alan Baucom and Parker Mills declined to run for re-election. In each of the previous elections, the change in seats signaled a power shift, but Thomas said he wasn’t looking at it like that.
“When people talk about a new majority, that’s the wrong way to go about it,” Thomas said. “We hope they include Kim [Rogers] and Tracy [Kuehler] in that. We want them on board, as the issues facing the county are just too great for us to step in and have more of these 3-2 votes.”
That doesn’t mean however commissioners will agree on everything, Thomas said.
“Will there be disagreements? Sure,” Thomas said. “Will Jerry, Todd and I disagree on things? Probably, but that’s healthy.”
Issues on the table
Each of the three new commissioners hopes to hit the ground running when they take office Dec. 6, citing the economy and negotiations with Carolinas Healthcare System as key things they hope to make headway on within the first 100 days.
“We campaigned on taking this county in a different direction, trying to make it work better,” Simpson said. “We want to get it right.”
Simpson and Thomas both said securing a new, long term lease for CMC-Union and finalizing an agreement over CMC-Waxhaw are key issues of the new term.
“”We’d like to get a good lease in place, one that benefits both parties,” Thomas said. “Look, both parties have created problems. Union County has done some wrong here and CHS has done some wrong,” he said. “We want to sit down and get that resolved.”
Simpson agreed, saying that having an unopened emergency department sitting in Waxhaw didn’t benefit anyone.
Expansion defeated and voter confusion
One issue commissioners won’t have to address is what to do with extra board members, as the proposal to expand the number of seats from five to seven was defeated, 58 percent to 41 percent. This marks the second time in four years that Union County voters have struck down a measure designed to increase the size of the board. The current board of commissioners approved placing the measure on the ballot earlier this year, after getting a recommendation from the Governance Committee, which consisted of representatives from all the municipalities, as well as unincorporated Union County. Their recommendation called for five at large seats and two districts, an idea struck down by state law, which requires that if districts are created, they have to account for at least half of the seats. With that being the case, commissioners put a measure on the ballot for seven at large seats.
Voters however appeared to be a bit unclear as to what exactly the proposal was, much less who approved it.
“I was told this was another part of Obama’s socialist agenda,” Weddington resident Andrew Baker said, after voting against the measure at Providence Fire Department. “I wanted to send a clear message that we don’t want the feds telling us how to run our county.”
Unincorporated Union County resident Cindy Collins echoed his statements. “This is just another example of Big Brother trying to muscle in and tell us how to run things,” Collins said. “If we decide to go up to seven seats in the future, that should be a Union County choice, not something ordered by the federal government.”
Other voters were confused as to who should be on the ballot. One Waxhaw man, who asked not to be identified, wondered why all the candidates weren’t available as choices. Walking out of Kensington Elementary, he pointed out that current commissioner Lanny Openshaw was not a choice. Informed that Openshaw lost in the Republican primary, he appeared confused.
“Oh,” he said. “I thought the primary was just a ranking system, determining who went first in the debates.”