We caught a break, a few month’s worth at least, from all those eyesore political signs — they’ll start popping up with yard sale signs attached to them once everyone does their spring cleaning.
And that’s exactly what the voters in High Springs did to city hall — cleaned it out.
There is a lot to glean from last Tuesday’s results and I’ll try to distill out what I found in the voting data below.
The most unpopular politicians of all time
Bob Barnas, Dean Davis, and Linda Gestrin are all in the running for the fastest fall from popular election to support of less than 1% of the electorate I have ever seen. I haven’t run a poll in the city to give you concrete numbers, but based on the previous two election results, the total lack of public support and the tone of recent meetings, everything these three seem to touch goes down in flames.
Let’s look at three indicators:
- The special election of Scott Jamison
In the Spring of this year, a rare special election was held to fill a vacated High Springs City Commission seat. The Barnas-led majority, who just months earlier hired former office manager and campaign supporter Jeri Langman as permanent city manager, sprung into action to ensure Ann Carter, their handpicked candidate, was elected. They donated, sign-waved, put signs in their yard, and spread the word throughout the community that Carter was their preferred candidate. Carter lost to newcomer Scott Jamison by a crushing 18-point margin.
- Byran Williams defeats Pat Rush
By most measures, Pat Rush, a political newcomer, should have easily won election over former Commissioner and Mayor Byran Williams. Williams has had some reelection trouble in the past, losing two out of three elections over the last three years. Rush claimed experience as the campaign manager for a successful State Representative campaign and his in-laws had congressional campaign experience. But Rush received the endorsement of the current Barnas-led majority, and it cost him — he lost to Williams by over a 10-point margin.
- The debt limit amendment is toast
This is perhaps the one piece of victory Barnas and his cronies could claim — a 34-point margin of victory at the ballot box. For a historical perspective, in High Springs voters have approved every single charter amendment placed before them in the last 15 years. So really the only thing you can do wrong is somehow mess up the legal process required to get in on the ballot. Against the advice of their own legal counsel, you guessed it, Barnas, Davis, and Gestrin somehow managed to do just that. In Judge Stan Griffis’ preliminary ruling, he stated the plaintiff in the case (claiming the city illegally passed the amendment) was likely to succeed. In other words, the amendment will not go into effect.
Concerned Citizens for a Better High Springs
One of the interesting anomalies in this election was the formation of the non-political group, Concerned Citizens for a Better High Springs, about two months out from the election date. The group claimed non-profit status and also claimed (and maintained) it was not an ECO (Electioneering Communications Organization) meaning it would not advocate for or against a candidate or ballot item, and thus could avoid election disclosure laws.
Receiving press mentions in The Gainesville Sun, The Observer, and The Alachua Today, the group again stated it’s purpose was to raise awareness but not endorse or support any candidate. They even went as far as to take out an ad in the Today with all the supporters of the group’s names.
So what did this group actually do for the election? Two observations:
- Local turnout was lower than the last presidential election
You could say it’s a symptom of lower overall turnout, but when you boil down to how many people voted on High Springs ballot items, it was a full 10-points lower than the previous comparable election. This broke most trends in terms of it’s severity and scale. It is a very fair assumption to say a group the group’s “Go All The Way” ad campaign to get voters to go to the back of the four-page ballot to vote for local issues was a failure.
- More people voted for/against the charter amendment than did for commissioner
Turnout for the High Springs Commission seat 4 was 71%. Turnout for the High Springs charter amendment was 72.4%. This equates to a nearly one and a half point difference in turnout between the two items. If you’re like me, you’re wondering why in the world a High Springs resident would skip the commission race and vote for the amendment only. Simple; they were doing just what the Concerned Citizens’ ad campaign wanted them to do — flip to the back and vote. Only the group failed to seal the deal and tell them which way to vote.
What’s my take on this?
If you’re going to try to influence political environments, become a political organization. If not, then go have bake sales, volunteer your time in the community, and do some civic good. But don’t parade around as some pseudo-political organization that only muddies the water and confuses people — we have enough of those already.
Sewer is slowly tearing High Springs apart
One of the most interesting things one could gleam from the election results comes from the difference between precincts.
Byran williams enjoyed a 10.5-point margin victory over Pat Rush citywide, but in precinct 60, which holds 40% of High Springs’ 3,700 voters, Williams’ margin of victory shrunk to just under 6-points.
That’s good news and bad news. The good is Williams had a strong, 16.7-point win in the core, older part of town. The bad news is Rush wasn’t too far from victory in the precinct that represents the outlying parts of the city.
I’m a precinct 60 voter, so I can give you the scoop here. The Rush campaign, with the help of wife Robyn Rush, marched through precinct 60 scaring people who aren’t on sewer with falsehoods of the sewer system and Williams’s candidacy. They preached doom and gloom to people of coming sewer-rate apocalypse they have invented. They even cited the City Engineering firm’s report of recommended ~$70 sewer rates as William’s diabolical plan for the city.
And you know what? It was pretty effective.
Rush’s strategy wasn’t too far off from the DNC strategy of the last six years; divide and conquer. Their attempt now is to pit the sewer people against the non-sewer people and ensure victory for their candidates, which they’ve received some short-term success in getting Barnas and Gestrin on the commission.
But Rush’s strategy is short-lived and only works when you have some sort of controlling interest in the media — they don’t — because it’s built upon lies and deception. As cynical as working in the political world can make one, I still believe the good, honest guy (or gal) wins in the end.
Have you ever found yourself wondering exactly why people like Barnas and Rush do what they do? What motivates them to go on witch hunts, trash people’s names, and create overall chaos?
Because it’s made High Springs a risky investment. Try to take inventory on how many residential or commercial developers are interested in High Springs. When’s the last time we had Fortune 100 companies looking to build thousands of jobs into our community like our neighbor city of Alachua has done?
As long as only half of the city is on sewer and fights the remaining half, the elections remain unpredictable and radicals like Barnas and Gestrin get into office, with Rush controlling the political sideshow from behind the scenes.
In a community with chaos at city hall, no economic development happens.
And that’s exactly what no-growthers like Rush and Barnas want.
(Disclaimer: The analysis in this post is based upon unofficial results from the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office. It is not scientific as the data needed to make it so is not available for up to 45 days after the polls close. The final outcomes and numbers could vary a few percentage points and the analysis above could best be described as “rough”.)
Former elected official Eric May provides readers a view on government they rarely get: one from the inside. Eric currently works for a political consulting firm handling all forms of political media and communications. He is married to his beautiful wife Jenna, who both enjoy serving actively in their church and community.
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