Saturday, November 18, 2006

Conventional Wisdom The Big Loser On Election Day

By Tony Brockmeyer

Looking at the results of the November 2006 general elections. It appears that the big loser was conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom before an election, is those statements that so called political experts make trying to gaze into a crystal ball to predict the results.

Both before and after an election the political spin doctors are working overtime trying to imprint their unique brand of partisian politics on the race for results. The First Capitol News would like to look at a couple of conventional wisdom nugget's that we feel faired particularly bad this election cycle.
The first of these is the conventional wisdom that St. Charles County is “solidly” Republican. In fact, our voters are remarkably independent when given good candidates to vote for. Remember this was a county where Ross Perot received 39 percent in his first bid for President. That was the highest percentage he received in any county in Missouri.

Attorney General Jay Nixon, Democrat, has consistently carried St. Charles County by a good margin. This is a fact most Republican political pundits would like you to ignore. It is also the reason Jay Nixon is the odds on favorite to be Missouri’s next Governor.

In a recent column by would-be pundit John Sonderreger, he was again pressing the point that because most County offices were retained by Republican candidates, the county was still heavily Republican. This is pure wishful thinking on John’s part given the actual results. Not only did Democratic County Council members Joe McCulloch and Cheryl Hibbler retain their seats against strong and well funded Republican challengers, but several Republican held State Representative seats were too close to call until the wee hours of the morning.

Chief among these was Ken Bierman in the 17th District. This Orchard Farm school board member, running for the first time as a Democratic candidate against an opponent with 10 times the money he had to spend, came within one tenth of one percent of winning the upset of the year. Democrat Tom Green was locked in a close battle with State Representative Sally Faith who edged him one point nine percent. St. Charles City Councilman Joe Koester kept Majority Floor leader Representative Tom Dempsey biting his nails until the last results were in. Koester captured 47.17 percent of the vote in a district the Republicans thought was one of their safest to retain. He too was at a disadvantage in fund raising. Dempsey had hundreds of thousands of dollars at his command and still was forced to scramble and put out negative mailers against Joe Koester as late as two days before the election.

Claire McCaskill, despite a relentless barrage of negative mailers, television ads and electronic phone calls, all attacking her family, finances and credibility, managed to reduce Senator Talent’s previous winning margin in St. Charles County.

Talent received 4,000 less votes county-wide then he did the last time he was on the ballot. Keeping the race close in St. Charles County contributed heavily to McCaskill’s overall win. She may also have been helped by the stem cell initiative, which despite a spirited campaign by religious organizations targeted to this County, ended the night in a virtual tie among county voters.

Locally there were examples of the upset of conventional wisdom on two issues. The first of these was proposition A. While narrowly missing their required 4/7th’s mark it carried a majority of 55 percent of City voters. Councilman Mike Weller had predicted that voters south of Interstate 70 would oppose the measure because of the proposed site of the Community Center would be perceived as too far to go. Voters south of Interstate 70 approved of the issue 55.8 percent compared with the approval north of 70 of 54.6 percent of voters. In other words, people south of 70 were even more in support than those north punching a huge hole in Weller’s theory. Likewise Councilman Bob Hoepfner, who campaigned heavily against the proposal going so far as to arrange to send electronic phone calls to leave his recorded message on answering machines throughout the City and running ads in other publications. But when it came time to count the ballots at Hanover, in his area, gave the measure over 60 percent support. The highest precinct support was Montclair where it received a 60.79 percent approval.

The Council had promised voters that the issue would be on the ballot and supporters of a community center consider this vote as giving them a mandate to move forward. The issue will receive further study and refinement over the next four or five months. Expect to see a community center project on the drawing boards before too long.

Finally there is the issue of the Mayor’s salary. Tuesday night the spin doctors were really trying to explain away the will of the voters. Councilwoman Dottie Greer stated that her voters were “confused” and somehow unable to figure out the issue. This same sentiment was echoed by the Mayor. Councilman Mike Weller, who supports a high salary for the next mayor, stood by his position though he admitted that it was out of step with the message from voters. Councilman Bob Hoepfner, who had originally wanted to pay the new Mayor $150,000 per year, was strangely silent during the debate Tuesday night. At least he had less of a problem understanding what the voters meant when they voted down the highest pay range by over 80 percent.

Council members Rory Riddler and Mark Brown both pointed out that had the issue of retaining the current form of government being placed on the ballot as they had proposed, the voters likely would have overturned the previous narrow vote in favor of this radical change in government. Councilman John Gieseke, who has announced his bid for mayor, told the First Capitol News, that he will recuse himself on any vote relative to what the city should pay it’s next mayor.

Conventional wisdom among the movers and shakers has been that the Mayor’s salary must be at least $120,000. That prediction along with most of what passes for conventional wisdom in St. Charles county politics was turned on its head by the voters on November 7th.