When voters speak, politicians listen. The rub is whether the latter understands precisely what the former says, and whether that, in all events, should be heeded. This accounts for the political pendulum perpetually swinging, one side lurching in its favored direction only to be yanked back by voters suitably wary of sharp tilts.
These lessons might prove instructive to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors, which will be populated by two newcomers when officials swear in the next panel. Gone will be the board’s two highest ranking members, Chairman Cline Brubaker and Vice Chairman Leland Mitchell.
Ronald Mitchell unseated Brubaker in the Blackwater District, while Lorie Smith, a former Waynesboro city councilwoman and school board member, captured the Gills Creek seat following Camicia’s decision to forgo reelection. Two incumbents retained their seats: Timothy Tatum ran unopposed for a second term in the Blue Ridge District and Tommy Cundiff fended off a challenge in Union Hall.
Changes in the makeup of the board do not indicate a change in the general outlook of eligible voters in Franklin County, a place where Republicans have captured more than 60% of the ballots in every presidential election since 2004. Donald Trump won the largest share of the vote during that time, taking 69.2% in 2016.
Among myriad political peculiarities that have sprouted like weeds in the era of celebrity politics is an aversion to investment of taxpayer money in anything whatsoever. This at least partly explains unease over county supervisors’ decision to spend $11 million on Summit View Business Park off U.S. 220.
Historic conservative resistance to spending on classrooms, meanwhile, at least partly explains supervisors’ hesitation to invest more heavily in schools. In this sense, modern conservatism, such as it is, has closed the circle. Once, the thinking favored spending to spur economic growth but not to improve public education. Now, the idea is a variation on a Thoreauvian theme: That government which governs best spends not at all.
Another line of logic, or what passes for it, is cast into the discussion. It goes that spending on Summit View cheats schools of money that otherwise might go there.
All this forms the ideological labyrinth the newly composed board of supervisors must navigate. Smith, fortuitously for her, has seen it before. As a Waynesboro councilwoman, she favored a theater project that fell out of favor with constituents, costing her an election. She later drew political interest from more traditional conservative backers who saw her as willing to invest in development.
What the county needs is simple sensibility in governing. Intelligent spending to spark growth increases the tax base. Investing wisely in schools not only benefits children and the county, it makes the place more appealing to businesses that might locate here. Boosting economic development and improving public education ought to be seen as complementary rather than competing objectives.
Supervisors’ role is to be thoughtful stewards, shepherding the county to new heights of prosperity and quality of life. Leave partisan debates to Washington and the cable news shows.