Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 3, 2006
I will be surprised if we don’t have some new faces on Suffolk City Council come Wednesday morning.
All signs are pointing toward a tough evening Tuesday for incumbent City Councilmen Bobby Ralph, Calvin Jones and perhaps Joe Barlow. I, of course, have no scientific polling data to site in making this claim, it’s just a gut feeling that there’s a wind of change blowing. I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single person in the past few days who claims to be voting for any of the incumbents tomorrow.
I know what you are thinking, it’s just the crowd I hang out with, but I don’t hang out with anybody. This is just folks who come into the office or call, or who I see on the streets. They are from all walks of life and all income segments.
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It’s the same basic cadre that has been ruling Suffolk for the past eight years or so. A few of the faces might have changed but they were replaced with ones that thought and voted pretty much the same way.
Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that in and of itself. In fact, much has been accomplished in Suffolk over this period. Still, that’s a long-time in politics for a group to be in power.
It’s no different on the national scene. The Republicans took over Congress in 1994. It appears that 12 years of them in charge is about all people can take. Their approval rate is below 30 percent and most pundits are predicting the Democrats will take back at least one house of Congress in the fall.
The incumbent with the best chance of retaining his seat is Chuckatuck’s Joe Barlow. This is mainly because of Mary Hill’s candidacy. She is going to split the anti-incumbent vote. David Gray will have to hope for a huge turnout to have a chance at unseating Barlow.
Hill’s impact was even on display in the News-Herald’s Web poll overnight Friday and Saturday. Thirty-seven people voted, with Barlow getting 17 votes. Gray received 12 and Hill, eight. Had Hill not been in the race, the anti-incumbent vote would have been 20-to-17. I’ve heard people smarter than I, though, say the exact opposite: that Barlow and Gray could split the vote putting Hill in office.
Regardless, I think the bottom line in this race will be the tax rate. All things being equal, people typically vote their pocketbooks. I fear the incumbents and those in City Hall have just completely misread the tax rate tea leaves.
Over the past few years, Suffolkians have generally been supportive (or at least not virulently opposed) to city efforts to increase revenues. While there have been some n News-Herald columnist Robert Pocklington comes to mind — rumblings over increasing taxes, it has not been too earth-shaking.
That appears to have changed. People seem to be realizing that going up 20 percent per year on taxes is just too much.
Small wonder. Most economic studies show that nationwide, real income has been declining for several years while prices and local taxes have been going up. The effect of this was muted because people have been able to use their homes as ATM machines, borrowing against their rising equity to finance lifestyles beyond what they could afford. Now that they have borrowed about all they can from their homes and maxed out their credit cards, 20-percent-plus real estate tax increases are starting to look significant.
Gasoline soaring over $3 a gallon is just the last straw.
The incumbents have shown no indication that they intend to provide families with any meaningful tax relief and that, I think, will be their undoing.
This is all, of course, just one person’s guess (a hillbilly from West Virginia at that). I may well be wrong in my prediction on who is going to win and if I am, it likely won’t be the first time today. Even if I am, it doesn’t change the fact that high mortgages and $3+ gas is putting a real hurting on families. I hope whoever wins bears this in mind when it comes to taxing and spending.