- First and foremost, congrats to all who took time to throw their hats into the ring for elected office. I applaud everyone with the courage and conviction to put their name on the line and take the time to campaign, and if elected, to serve. This is what makes our country great. Tonight likely marked the end of the road for long-time Oconee Commissioner Don Norris, who has served our county for many years. Thanks Don for your years of service.
- Voters are not thrilled with what is happening in Oconee County. The candidates most closely identified with the status quo lost or were challenged most strongly.
- With Norris losing, the often narrow 3-2 balance on many Oconee County BOC votes may have shifted. Chuck Horton and Margaret Hale, often on the losing ends of 3-2 votes and perceived as being the most moderate of the Oconee Commission members on a number of issues, won by wide margins against well-financed opposition.
- I am suprised that Paul Broun defeated Barry Fleming by such a large margin. Having a congressman from our county is always a positive, so this is good news for Oconee and a strong endorsement of Paul Broun's maverick approach rather than Barry's more typical political style.
- Bill Cowsert won Oconee by a bit more than I expected; this is great news. Kudos to Tommy Malcom for a strong, well run campaign.
- Alcohol was probably a factor in the Oconee races, but not the deciding factor. Jim Luke and Melvin Davis won re-election despite supporting and pushing it through. Don Norris lost after supporting it.
- The board of election races played out largely as expected. While Ashley Hood worked incredibly hard, it is tough to overcome the "brand exposure" Kim Argo received with years of teaching in the Oconee County school system. Most of us who went through Oconee Schools in the 80s or 90s certainly remember Mrs. Argo. Bottom line: we will have a strong, diverse board to choose our next superintendent.
- New media has made its mark in Oconee. It is obvious that online versions of traditional media, various activist blogs and e-mail lists in the community are educating voters and helping them turn out. Whether it is AVOC, Oconee County Observations, Oconee Democrat, The Oconee Enterprise, The OnlineAthens Blogs, The Oconee Leader, Small Town Politics, or even archived audio on WGAU, there is much more information readily available to the average voter than there was four years ago as journalists and activists alike dive deep into the records and background of candidates. There is also much more discussion around the issues online. This has been a trend at a national and regional level for several election cycles now and has finally trickled down to Oconee. This is a double edged sword locally just as it is nationally -- inaccurate, incomplete or unvetted information is much more likely to be posted on these "new media" sites than traditional media, which presents challenges to candidates.
- The Chairman's race was much closer than many -- including myself -- expected. Despite having significantly less funds and visibility in the community than Melvin Davis, Sarah Bell came within 100 votes of being elected. I was stunned when the Civic Center precinct, whose voters technically should be among the largest beneficiaries of recent county efforts (the new park, announced Mars Hill Road expansion, etc.) voted for Bell by more than 100 votes. Maybe the geography of this district has changed in recent years, but it used to be a solid "pro-growth" precinct. However, this district also now includes the old Briarwood Baptist Church district, and Briarwood has always been known for its opposition to alcohol. If many Briarwood members live in this district, this could have been a factor.
- One of Chairman Davis' closest allies, Don Norris, drew strong opposition in John Daniell. Norris was closely identified with embracing rapid, suburban-style growth and also most supportive of the county's current form of government. He also floated the idea of moving the courthouse out of Watkinsville, upsetting many of the electorate, and was faced with conflict of interest allegations from a citizens group. He was defeated after years of active service on the board. In the end, there were probably just too many issues lined up against Don for him to win this time.
- Incumbents Chuck Horton and Margaret Hale -- widely perceived as more moderate in their growth approaches and seeking a more collaborative approach in local government -- won despite facing strong challengers. This despite both of the challengers receiving laudatory editorial coverage in the county's largest newspaper and the support of many in the Republican party establishment. The fact that Mike Maxey did not run closer to Horton, despite his large expenditures and extensive advertising, indicates that a majority of citizens value Horton's experience and balanced, objective approach to growth issues. I do hope Mike will run again in the future -- he had a strong platform and a lot to offer.
- Incumbent Jim Luke, who has been independent on a number of issues and our representative in the regional reservoir efforts, won over tough challenger Johnny Pritchett. Jim has a strong base of support in North Oconee, but perhaps more critically, has been responsive to citizens, is respected by other regional government leaders, and clearly articulates his own reasons for his decisions based on research and experience.
Overall, Oconee is left with an experienced board of commissioners with a balance that probably accurately reflects the overall mood of the community. Lets hope that the next four years will be among our most successful ever as we deal with the local and macro-economic challenges that are coming our way. Oconee is still an incredible place to live, with wonderful communities, cultural resources, civic pride, parks, homes, greenspace, schools, and most importantly -- great people. There is work to be done, but by pulling together we can certainly keep it that way!