Election Day 2011 managed to deliver a few surprises locally in Clarke County although both the State Senate and House of Delegates races went much as predicted with wins by the Republican Party.
In the Virginia General Assembly races, 10th District House of Delegates Republican candidate Randy Minchew grabbed 58% of vote crushing Democratic challenger Dave Butler, while incumbent 27thDistrict State Senator Jill Vogel cruised to a new term by winning an election that was never really competitive.
Vogel won easily taking 75 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Shaun Broy.
One local surprise was James Brinkmeier’s 36 vote win over Berryville School Board incumbent Jennifer Welliver with Brinkmeier’s call for change and civility apparently trumping Welliver’s cautionary message of continuity in leadership.
Republican Bev McKay easily took the White Post Board of Supervisors seat with 65% of the vote over Democratic challenger Randy Sprouse. McKay will now move from the Planning Commission to the top spot in the White Post district.
While voter turnout across Clarke County only reached into the low thirty percent range, local voting officials said that the numbers weren’t surprising for an off-year election.
“Things have been steady here for us all day,” said voting official Betsy North at the Blue Ridge Fire Company voting site around 6:00pm on Tuesday. North was seated at a table with voting officials Janel Melgaard and Jean Hess at Clarke County’s Pine Grove Precinct.
“So far we’ve had a 28% turnout,” said Melgaard after doing a few quick calculations on a small calculator. “With two hours to go before the polls close I think that we’ll probably get to thirty percent.”
Jean Hess said that election day means getting to the polling place in time to setup before the polls open at 6:00am and then staying late to tally the results after the polls close at 7:00pm.
“It’s a long day for us,” Hess said. “But, I like helping the community so I don’t mind.”
A sign at the entrance of the Pine Grove poll announced to voters that Independent Senate candidate Donald Marro had officially withdrawn from the race even though his name still appeared on the ballot.
“Ballots had already printed when Mr. Marro withdrew,” read the sign signed by Clarke County’s Electoral Board Secretary Donald De Haven. Even so, Mr. Marro managed to grab two percent of the popular vote.
As the polls began to wind down the celebration circuit began to heat up across the County.
Clarke County’s new Commissioner of Revenue, Donna Peake, held her victory party at the House of Light on Main Street. By 7:30pm the room was filing with well-wishers.
“I feel blessed tonight,” Peake said. “Being out at the polling places and feeling all of the support was great. I just want people to realize that the Commissioner of Revenue’s office is their office. I want to do a really good job for the voters . I also hope that people will stop by and share their ideas with me.”
However, Peake did lose an informal wager with Sheriff Tony Roper about who would win the most votes in their uncontested elections; Roper 2,721 votes, Peake 2,626.
Berryville School Board candidate Jim Brinkmeier, prior to the election results being announced, joined Peake’s celebration.
“The campaign has been a learning experience for me,” Brinkmeier said. “I really enjoyed it but I’m glad that it’s over!”
Brinkmeier estimated that during the campaign season he had spoken with over a thousand people.
“I hope that the issues that I’ve raised during the campaign will become a focus for the new school board whether I win or not,” Brinkmeier said.
Brinkmeier praised opponent Jennifer Welliver for running an issues-based campaign.
“I think that we’ve both run clean, positive campaigns” Brinkmeier said. “Jennifer conducted herself in a very professional manner.”
Brinkmeier’s win now provides him with a formal platform for implementing campaign promises which include a return to civility during school board meetings, improved focus on vocational and advanced education programs, as well as looking for ways to further school operating efficiencies.
The Clarke County School Board will see the largest number of new faces now that the election results are in. In addition to Brinkmeier, School Board member Robina Bouffault (White Post) will give her seat to incoming winner Chip Schutte while Emily Rhodes (Buckmarsh) will cede her seat to Elizabeth Leffel.
School Board member Barbara Lee (Millwood) and Janet Alger (Russell) were unopposed.
Across town, many area Democrats gathered to await election results at Focaccia Italian Grill.
School Board member Jennifer Welliver echoed Brinkmeier’s comments in what would eventually turn out to be a losing night for her campaign.
“I think that it’s going to be a close election,” Welliver said around 8:00pm. “I hope that I win and have an opportunity to continue the good work that the School Board has done.”
Welliver agreed that both sides had run a positive campaign.
Democratic candidates Randy Sprouse and Shaun Broy, who would also see the night end in defeat, were also at Focaccia.
“I’m just relieved that the campaign is over,” laughed Sprouse regarding his bid for the White Post Supervisor seat.
Sprouse expressed gratitude to House of Delegates candidate David Butler for helping with the Sprouse campaign.
“Dave Butler’s campaign gave me a place to operate from along with a list of names to contact in my district,” Sprouse said. “They felt like every candidate that I contacted was a potential vote for both of us. They really helped me to get traction.”
State Senate hopeful Shaun Broy, whose message in the closing days of the campaign seemed resigned to defeat, said that the election raised serious questions about the Virginia Democratic Party and held no illusions of an upset on Tuesday night.
“The odds were long against me getting elected, but I felt called by civic duty to run when no one else would,” Broy said. “I was behind from the beginning in almost every category imaginable. But, whatever the result turns out to be tonight I plan on holding my head high knowing that I gave it my best. In the end I just didn’t have the resources necessary to reach the summit.”
Broy said that he was very disappointed in the level of support that he received from the state’s Democratic Party.
“The Democratic party didn’t show up this year,” Broy said. “Today is a reckoning day for the Democrats. If they lose the Virginia Senate it’s really going to be gut-check time about the direction that the party is headed. The Democratic Party chose to play defense and not offense in this election. The Republican Party clearly has their act together and has a clear and concise message. The Democrats don’t.”
Republican Bev McKay held his victory celebration at the Lone Oak Restaurant in Waterloo. McKay said that he wasn’t ready to discuss the policies that he hopes to advocate once he takes over departing Supervisor Pete Dunning’s seat but believes that budgets will continue to be tight for the foreseeable future.
“Tonight I feel very humbled,” McKay said. “I think that Randy Sprouse was a good candidate and I never took the election for granted. Up until now my focus has been on planning issues. Now my job is getting up to speed on the budget and other issues as quickly as I can.”
One question raised by many people throughout this year’s election season focused on the low number of contested elections. Clarke County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville), who ran unopposed, offered a couple of possible reasons for the phenomenon;
“One factor is that people lead very busy lives today and it’s hard to find the time for public service. It’s difficult for many people to make that kind of commitment, especially younger people who seem to be constantly on the run,” Hobert said. “On another level I think that it’s a reflection of some degree of satisfaction with the way that the County is being run. I think that a lot of citizens see that people are doing their best to work together to make the County a better place and are pleased by the results.”
Hobert and McKay will be joined by incumbents John Staelin (Millwood), Barbara Byrd (Russell) and David Weiss (Buckmarsh) for the Supervisors next term.