October 25, 2007
Four seats on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors are being contested in the November 6 elections, and the opposing candidates in each race appeared in a series of forums sponsored by the Augusta Free Press this week. Two vacancies were created when Supervisors Kay Frye (Middle River) and Jim Bailey (Beverley Manor) decided not to seek reelection; both are Republicans. The big issue seems to be over the proposed "mega-site," the industrial park that would have housed a large Toyota manufacturing plant near Weyer's Cave. On Sunday, the News Leader highlighted that issue, which cuts across party lines. Basically, all the male incumbents were in favor of a feasibility study without divulging the details to the public, while females wanted the process to be open to the public. (See my blog post of May 15, 2006.)
The mega-site is a key issue in the North River district race between Republican incumbent Larry Howdyshell and challenger [Charles] Curry, who used to serve on the board. Curry said he is running because many people in the district expressed displeasure with the way the mega-site issue was handled. Howdyshell favored the study of the plan but was non-committal on whether the mega-site itself was a good idea. (It doesn't matter, as Toyota got a better deal in Mississippi.) Howdyshell is a farmer who emphasizes his desire to "preserve the rural essence of Augusta County."
Perhaps the most interesting race is between Jeremy Shifflett, a young farmer and business owner, and Lee Godfrey, a Democrat who has organized protest rallies in this area that were associated with MoveOn.org. Shifflett has lived in Augusta County his whole life, while Godfrey moved to the area three years ago. She touts her experience in planning while residing in Colorado, and praised outgoing Board member Jim Bailey for getting funds for a planned recreation center in Verona, the only town of its size in the county without a school or playground. She also favors "purchased development rights" (PDRs) as a tool to preserve farmland, but is not so sure about increased funds for law enforcement. Shifflett isn't sure about PDRs but definitely favors more money for law enforcement. He knows what he is talking about, and is mature beyond his years.
In the Riverheads district, Republican Michael Shull, a farmer, is challenging independent incumbent Nancy Sorrells, a writer and publisher who is active in nature conservation. She favors more cooperation between the county government and the city governments of Staunton and Waynesboro. She also stressed the importance of having county government be open to the public -- referring to the mega-site issue, which she opposed. Shull takes a balanced position on development issues, and wants to make sure that new houses are only built where there are existing water and sewer lines. He stresses the need to plan for future needs and to control growth.
In the Pastures district, Republican Travis Smithdeal, a commercial pilot with a military background, is challenging Democratic incumbent Tracy Pyles, who spoke at length of various achievements for which he took credit during his 12 years in office. Pyles seemed to express support for the mega-site, claiming that most residents supported it, and he made a point to say that he is not getting rich under the table. He also criticized Sheriff Randy Fisher for refusing to assign a deputy sheriff to the Pastures district, supposedly for political reasons. It was the first time I had seen Mr. Pyles, and he came across as brash and unapologetic. Smithdeal, in contrast, is a mild-mannered man who is a strong conservative in both economic and social terms. He opposes the Verona rec center, saying that entertainment is not a proper function of government.
All the Republican candidates agree on the need to keep a tight lid on general spending by the County, while making sure that critical functions such as law enforcement and education are given adequate resources. The Republicans face a stiff challenge, however, in trying to maintain a majority (currently four out of seven) of seats on the Board. Indeed, the four contested seats could go either way. Given the inherent advantage they have in this strongly conservative part of the state, it's a bit puzzling that the party is not in a better shape to win elections at the local level.
|North River||Larry Howdyshell||[Charles] Curry (I)|
|Middle River||Gerald Garber||X|
|South River||David Beyeler||X|
|Wayne||X||Wendell Coleman (I)|
|Beverley Manor||Jeremy Shifflett||Lee Godfrey (D)|
|Riverheads||Michael Shull||Nancy Sorrells (I)|
|Pastures||Travis Smithdeal||Tracy Pyles (D)|
NOTE: Underlines indicate incumbents.
In addition, the Republican incumbents Treasurer Rick Homes, Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury, and Sheriff Randy Fisher are running unopposed -- though I did see a sign for a write-in candidate for sheriff this evening.
[WEEKEND UPDATE: I saw an ad for the write-in sheriff candidate in the News Leader on Friday; his name is Ed Carter. Also, I neglected to mention another local Republican Augusta County candidate, Mr. John Davis, who is running for reelection as clerk of courts, without opposition. Finally, I had the wrong first name for the challenging candidate for the North River district, which should be Charles Curry, not Wayne, so I corrected that in the above table and text. Thanks to David Beyeler for bringing those things to my attention. I will cover separately the race for the state Senate 24th District seat, where incumbent Emmett Hanger (R) is opposed by David Cox (D) and Arin Sime (L). The three local House of Delegates seats currently held by Republicans Steve Landes, Chris Saxman, and Ben Cline are all uncontested.]
Full disclosure: I was asked by the Augusta County Republican candidates to put together a campaign Web site, and after a brief trial run, it "went public" a couple weeks ago: www.augustarepublicans.com features campaign statements, endorsements, contact information, maps, and a number of photographs taken by various people, including Steve Kijak ("RightsideVA") and me.