19 Aug 2014
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Observations about the Election Results

Columnist Jim Barnes shares his observations about the November 8 elections in Leesburg and Loudoun County.

Observations about the Election Results

Much has already been written about the elections that were held earlier this month. Here are a few of my observations. Keep in mind that my perspective is not that of a political insider, but rather of a former staff member who served for 28 years in local government, including 22 as ’s Director of Public Information.

Republican Sweep of Board of Supervisors

Even many Republicans seemed to be surprised that their candidates were able to pull off a clean sweep in the races for the .

Many factors contributed to the Republicans’ sweep, but I believe the most important one is that the Republican Party did a much better job of getting its voters to the polls in a relatively low turn-out election.

But I don’t go along with those who, unhappy with the results of any election, blame low turn-out, as if that fact somehow makes the results less valid. There’s never any way to prove that a higher level of turnout would change the outcome. The results are what they are. (Unless there is election fraud, in which case, they aren’t.)

Since there weren’t any obvious wedge issues in this year’s campaigns, it’s hard to know exactly what message the voters sent. But it’s pretty safe to say that voters expressed a desire for more fiscal discipline, greater scrutiny of the school and county budgets, more economic development, and no further discussion of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. 

Incidentally, this is the first time the Republicans have held all the seats on the Board of Supervisors since 1995, the last year of George Barton’s term as chairman.

Jim Burton

After his defeat on November 8, Supervisor Jim Burton will end his 16-year run of the Board of Supervisors – first representing the Mercer District, then Blue Ridge. He can leave public office with his head held high.

Burton was first elected to the Board in November 1995 and served four full terms. Coincidentally, his tenure on the Board will be bookended by two all-Republican boards. Although Burton is a former Republican, he ran for office and governed as an Independent. 

For many years, Burton chaired the Board’s Finance Committee, and his institutional knowledge will be hard to replace. His intelligence, integrity, and command of the issues will also be missed. More than almost any elected official I have observed, he stayed true to his principles and didn’t make decisions with one eye always fixed on re-election. Over time, that took a toll on his popularity.

I recently read a quote attributed to former Duke basketball coach Bill Foster: “Your friends come and go. Your enemies accumulate.” I think that’s as good an explanation as any for Burton’s defeat.

Leesburg Council Elections Move to November

As expected, Leesburg residents voted overwhelmingly to move from May to November. There were some very good arguments for doing so. Most importantly, it will be easier for many people to vote in the town elections, especially those who commute a long distance from Leesburg. Consolidating elections in November will also save money.

But I was among the minority of voters who preferred keeping the elections in the spring. I believe that the change will inevitably make the council races more partisan and expensive, and may discourage some people from running if they lack funding or don’t identify strongly with one party or another.

In my opinion, partisanship does little to promote good government at the local level. Sample ballots distributed by the political parties will now include town council races along with many other races. This will give an advantage to the candidates endorsed by whichever party happens to be in favor at the time, and party identification may have nothing to do with the candidates’ ability to work effectively with others to address local issues.

I’ll have more to say about the election outcomes in upcoming columns…stay tuned!

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