For the first time – at least in recent history – as of today the majority of elected officials in Wicomico County will be Republicans once County Council is sworn in at tonight’s meeting.
Traditionally Wicomico has been one of the last vestiges of the old-fashioned Democratic Party that ruled the South for decades after Reconstruction ended. Many’s the case where Democrats are so because “my daddy was a Democrat and he would roll over in his grave if I switched.” In fact, Democrats still hold a small registration edge in the county.
But in the privacy of the voter booth, many Democrats aren’t faithful to their registration. In the last twenty years the GOP has begun to make inroads into the traditional Democratic dominance, beginning at the top of the ballot and working its way downward. In 2006 Republicans became a 4-3 majority on County Council, but, of the 15 elected offices in Wicomico County government Democrats remained in control of nine. As of today, though, that 9-6 advantage flips to Republicans thanks to the pickup of two County Council seats and a new State’s Attorney.
Perhaps even more frightening for local Democrats was that four of their six remaining officeholders were unopposed for re-election – two judges of the Orphan’s Court, the Clerk of the Courts, and Register of Wills are all longtime incumbents. And neither of the contested winners won by huge margins since neither garnered over 60% of the vote.
More telling, though, Democrats could not find a challenger in three of the five County Council districts or for Sheriff. And perhaps their temper tantrum in the State’s Attorney race, where longtime incumbent Davis Ruark was dumped by rank-and-file Democrats in favor of Seth Mitchell, cost them that seat. Mitchell was soundly defeated by Matt Maciarello, who only made the ballot as a Central Committee selection to represent the GOP.
By and large, except for the two-vote margin of victory Bob Caldwell sweated out, Republicans romped to victory in most races. The fact that Sheree Sample-Hughes ran a general election race after facing only primary opposition four years ago is enough to make the contention the GOP was making a local push.
But now it will be up to the Grand Old Party to govern – with a vetoproof 6-1 margin on County Council they will be calling the tune for County Executive Rick Pollitt. Certainly it will push Pollitt toward the center, and most likely this will end Pollitt’s continual call for eliminating the revenue cap – he will have to set a budget which lives within our means and like it. Otherwise there’s presumably enough support for a Council-created alternative.
Personally I don’t think that we’re down to the bone yet, as Pollitt seems to suggest. However, there are a few wild cards in the equation where Republicans could have to tinker with the tax system with the biggest being the prospect of teacher pensions being forced onto the counties as the state attempts to balance its budget. (This will also be a signal that the long-overdue switch to a defined-contribution system from a defined-benefit one is nigh. That may be the only budgetary saving grace, and we may have to endure a teachers’ strike to get it.)
I believe the timing of this changeover couldn’t be better for Republicans, though. Besides the continuing fiscal woes there are other thorny issues like a new comprehensive plan and redistricting on the horizon and I certainly prefer a conservative, common-sense approach to both – insofar as possible with the state always breathing down our necks, that is.
But the onus will be on us now in 2014. Before we had a very tenuous majority on County Council and losing one Republican (as often happened) gave the opposition Democrats a victory to back their County Executive. Now the ball is in our court, and Rick Pollitt could have room to shift blame if things don’t turn out for the best. I think they will, but time will tell.
If I were to make a prediction, though, this could be the start of a new prosperity for our fair county. Sure, Rick Pollitt will get some of the credit (whether deserved or not) but we have the chance now to place conservative principles in action and I’m sure that, beginning today, we will succeed.