(Reprinted from the Mooresville Weekly, Nov. 5, 2010; leave your comments at the end of this posting or at http://mooresvilleweekly.com/opinion/2010/11/republicans-sweep-local-election-races-yawn/)
Tuesday, as expected, was a great day for the GOP when it gained several seats in the Senate and took control of the House of Representatives in a historic national election. Locally, Republicans also swept the Iredell County elections, but that wasn’t surprising. Why? Because being elected to public office in Iredell has almost always been as simple as running Republican.
To the majority of Iredell voters, moral character and fiscal responsibility are irrelevant, as is how much money is raised or spent campaigning. It doesn’t even matter if a Republican candidate is a liberal-at-heart (or even if they’ve previously registered Democrat). Most Iredell voters don’t care who the candidate is, or what baggage they carry, as long as they carry the “R” behind their name.
Tuesday’s Iredell election was no exception. It was boring. (Yawn!) Anticipated. Predictable. After all, every contested partisan seat, as expected, was won – easily – by a Republican.
Of 43,077 ballots cast in Tuesday’s election in Iredell County, 16,008 voters cast straight-ticket ballots, with 10,292 of those being Republican.
Sheriff Phil Redmond, a Republican, easily carried his race, thanks in part to those straight-ticket voters. But how many of his supporters realize that Redmond was a Democrat before deciding to run for Iredell County sheriff in 1994? Redmond changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1987 – 13 years after he began working for the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office and seven years before he became sheriff.
Bill Stamey, the Democrat who challenged Redmond, collected only 9,321 votes on Tuesday, compared to Redmond’s 24,431. Though on paper Robert “Skip” Alexander, who is unaffiliated, was the most qualified candidate for sheriff – with prior service as a law-enforcement officer, a lawyer and a special agent with the FBI – he garnered even fewer votes than Stamey, finishing with only 8,897.
Let’s face it: Redmond didn’t need to campaign to win; he’s not only a registered Republican, he has also been Iredell’s sitting sheriff for 16 years. But according to campaign finance records at the Iredell County Elections Office, Redmond raised $10,700 in campaign funds, primarily through individual contributions.
Redmond’s campaign expenditures totaled about $12,800, including refunds/reimbursements from his campaign committee and in-kind contributions. Redmond spent the majority of his campaign collections on newspaper and radio advertising, shirts, cards and campaign signs.
Stamey raised a fraction of Redmond’s campaign bounty. He collected about $8,800 – $3,000 of which he loaned to his own campaign. Stamey’s expenses, including in-kind contributions, totaled about $8,500. The majority of Stamey’s campaign collections were applied to advertising, cards and campaign yard signs.
Then there’s Alexander, who spent about $19,500 of his personal money on advertising, printing and promotional materials, such as rulers, jar openers, caps and shirts. Alexander did not raise money from individual contributions.
Just as Redmond easily secured his fourth term as Iredell’s sheriff because he is a Republican, a 20-year county officeholder lost her seat primarily because she isn’t.
Brenda Bell has been Iredell’s Register of Deeds since 1990. It was presumed that since Bell was the long-time incumbent, she had a natural edge on Tuesday. Another factor appeared to give her even more leverage: Bell and her experience were being challenged by a young, political newcomer, Matt McCall, who had just turned seven years old when Bell first became Iredell’s Register of Deeds.
Bell secured $4,000 more in individual campaign contributions than McCall, and she spent double what McCall did on his campaign. But Bell lost the race, 18,807 votes to McCall’s 23,471.
Don’t get me wrong: McCall seems like a great guy. He is young, personable and energized, and he will almost certainly introduce new, fresh ideas to a little-known office in Iredell County. But he received nearly 10,300 straight-ticket votes right off the jump simply because he’s Republican. He knows as well as the next guy – and I’d bet he’d be willing to admit – that the “R” behind his name gave him an immediate advantage over Bell in Iredell County.
Even while Redmond and McCall arguably would have won the election without raising or spending the first penny in campaign materials, credit belongs to both men, especially McCall – who called a press conference to air some of his concerns about the Register of Deeds office – for demonstrating the spirit of democracy by actively vying for their seats.
The top three vote-getters in the Iredell County Board of Commissioners race – all Republicans – campaigned more like what could be expected of Republicans who know they are government shoe-ins.
Compared to the tens of thousands of dollars spent in other county races, Marvin Norman, a Republican incumbent, spent about $1,800 on promotional materials and dinner tickets to a Republican Party event. Republican incumbent Steve Johnson spent about $4,200 on campaign signs and radio advertisements. Newcomer Renee Griffith spent about $1,920 on a photo for newspaper advertising, promotional items and entrance to an event where she campaigned.
All three Republicans easily edged out their one Democratic challenger, Theodore Geary, who collected only 11,912 votes compared to Johnson’s 30,299, Norman’s 30,013 and Griffith’s 29,283.
In a separate election to determine who will serve the remainder of the late Godfrey Williams’ term on the county board, Republican Frank Mitchell easily defeated Democrat Chuck Gallyon. Both spent about the same amount of money in their campaigns. Mitchell spent about $1,265, primarily on campaign signs, and he collected 27,690 votes. Gallyon spent about $1,350 on cards, handouts, posters and emery boards. He collected only 14,532 votes.
Finally, in the election for Iredell County Clerk of Superior Court, Republican incumbent Rena Turner easily defeated Democrat challenger, Erin Mendaloff-Green, 30,073 votes to 12,110, respectively.
Nothing except party affiliation matters in an Iredell County election – not the time or money spent campaigning and not who’s most qualified for the job.
Perhaps many Iredell voters would say “don’t fix what isn’t broken” – certainly those who are registered and voted Republican on Tuesday are happy with the status quo.
But I wonder if those same Republicans realize that when they vote straight-ticket, they may easily be voting for a true-blue Iredell Democrat who has switched party affiliation simply to have that “R” behind his or her name?
After all, one’s record doesn’t have to speak for itself. At least not when you’re in Iredell County. And not when you’re running Republican.