Chesterfield County At A Political Crossroads?

In the 400 years since a European first set foot on what would become Chesterfield County, Virginia, and in the 230 odd years since Virginia joined in this experiment in democracy, and in the 140 odd years since our Civil War, one might suppose that some sort of reasonably effective progressive movement might arise out of what is now a population of over 300,000. But alas, it hasn’t. The rather stuffy but tenacious Republican Party holds firm reins over the county as some sort of entitlement, controlling all five supervisor seats and filling most of the county’s policy and management positions. With an election coming up in less than two months, is there a change in the wind?

All five supervisor seats are up for grabs -- is there a chance that at least three will turn Democratic? Well the Democratic Party was only able to field candidates for three of the five supervisor seats so they would have to have a sweep to do so. Bermuda District has an increasingly impressive candidate in Ree Hart who is actively working the grassroots in her community. An equally impressive Jim Holland in running in Dale District and a bit more lackluster Bill Hastings is competing in Matoaca District. The Clover Hill and Midlothian Districts both have Independents challenging Republican candidates.

Dan Gecker, Independent vying for the Midlothian seat, is certainly a progressive, and is an experienced planner and knowledgeable about the county from an insider’s perspective. He brings an intelligence and strategic point of view and is a formidable opponent to Republican Don Sowder, who was only recently elected to fill the vacancy left by the Democrat Ed Barber, after Barber left due to scandal in his personal life, and after Independent Teri Beirne had temporarily filled that vacancy. Were two Democrats plus Gecker to win seats on the board then there would presumably be a shift to a more progressive policy in the county.

But . . . Chesterfield is two thirds conservative Republicans by past voting patterns and the county has a long history of being managed or governed by a rather small and rather inbred group of Republicans who can not be easily dismissed, who most likely are far better funded, and who have the momentum of history behind them. How large a “Bush backlash” is blowing in their face may be the real measure of how successful progressive inroads might be in the county in this election cycle. This is an off year election. Primary elections in the state hardly motivate five percent of the electorate to the polls. This graph on the county’s website hadn’t been updated in four years – when pressed, the County Registrar issued this rather terse reply, I imagine rather indicative of the general disinterest in the county in things political:


The turnout data for elections since 2003 is on the web. You can get that data and create your own graph. We have not updated due to lack of resources and other more pressing matters since 2003.

Lawrence Haake 
Chesterfield General Registrar

In such situations it is not unexpected that conservatives, more disciplined and more authoritatively controlled, will file out to the polls in larger numbers than liberals, who though a bit more idealistic and energized about the issues, are often less dependable to show up to vote. Without the socially compelling issue of gay marriage, there is less interest from the religiously conservative to vote as well. So, in the end, it may only be the growing dissatisfaction with the Bush war and with the direction the country seems headed, that could be the deciding factor in whether even conservatives choose an “R” or a “D”. After all, as recent history has shown, few will arrive at the polls with a working knowledge of any of the candidates anyway, and so it may just be the broader winds of change that might blow well for progressives in this stodgy old county.


Scott said…
The greater issue is growth, not smart but controlled growth where the government places greater resolve in the interests and impacts on the people not the interests of the developers.
The impacts of the arrogant Republican board, whether ignoring the Planning Commission or attempting to usurp the School Boards budget are but to examples of how this Board continually ignores the will of its people.
I believe this year we will see the change, not because of federal issues but because people are seeing the pitfalls of pro-growth at all costs all around. At what point will people understand that this Board is not holding the business community equally accountable at the expense of the people.
The inventory of homes sitting is example enough but the fact that there is a shortfall of new homes priced under 250K being built begs lots of questions.
Arrogance may be the issue. I have yet received a call or a knoack at the door or even seen Republican Supervisor signs and yet have spoken with Independents three times and seen countless signs in the Midlothian area along the Buford corridor. This election may certainly be a statement about effectiveness of grassroot movements.
I am currently inclined to support the Independents (Gecker/Waddell(68th) and yet at this time am favoring at the federal level the Republicans (Huckabee/Thompson) since Clinton will be annoited the nomination. In Midlothian I am finding alot of folks with the same view, we need some changes locally and are open to other candidates but most conservatives are in no way going to support the Dems at the national level.

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