Jackson County Opinions...

November 8, 2000

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 8, 2000

Rejoice, The Election Is Finally Over
This column is being written before the vote Tuesday with the assumption that we finally made it through Election 2000. As you read this, no doubt all of the winning candidates are basking in the warm glow of gloating and the losers are finally sobering up.
All of them, I assume, will be out on the streets and highways this week collecting campaign signs.
OK, and I still believe in Santa Claus.
It has been an exciting, frustrating and often mean campaign, one that is good to get behind us.
But whoever won, both the Democratic and Republican national leaders are already at work on Election 2002. The first order of business of a political party is to win the next election.
As you read this, a lot of political analysis is under way at both parties' headquarters. Was there too much negativity (or not enough)? Did too much direct mail go out? Were radio and newspaper ads relevant? Why didn't voters buy our righteous message? How could the voters not like our candidate, since the other candidate was such scum?
And that's just the party of the winners. The consultants working for the losing candidates are typing up their résumés and tapping their creativity to explain why their candidate, who spent gazillions, got beat.
And the pundits, from yours truly at the small local weekly to syndicated columnists, will be pounding the keys to explain why the voters voted as they did, and there will be as many opinions as there are writers.
The exception to this post-election scenario, however, is in the event that the presidential candidate who has the most votes is not the man with the most Electoral College votes.
The chance may be remote, but in a race that is supposedly this close, it could happen. Both Bush and Gore made contingency plans for national protests in the event that they came out on the short end of the deal.
Now that would be interesting. Can't you just hear the losers' supporters howling? (Actually, by now you are hearing them if it happened.) We might experience the closest thing to the next Civil War, but at least maybe then someone would decide it really was time to base the election on the votes of the people.
To our local candidates, I say congratulations to the winners and good luck. To the losers, I also say congratulations ­ they get their lives back, and their luck may have actually been better for losing.
To those whose campaigns were based on lies and distortions, win or lose, I hope you're ashamed of how low you sank and how your credibility with people who pay attention is gone. If you lost, you deserved it; if you won, the price you were willing to pay to get elected was too high.
But hey, when you read this, the election is over. The winners have accomplished the easiest part of the task and they can begin preparing to do the job for which they worked so hard. The losers get their lives back. They can look forward to the holidays, a new year and nights and weekends with their families.
Life goes on. The sun still rises and sets every day. The election is finally over. Rejoice.

The Jackson Herald
November 8, 2000

Don't let process go backward
Tuesday morning's incident in Jefferson where the son of a candidate was hit by a truck after confronting some political sign thieves was disheartening.
Thankfully, Greg Bell wasn't seriously hurt in the incident, which happened after he spotted a young man tearing up his mom's political signs. When he confronted the man, a young woman driving a pickup truck pulled up. When Bell told her to stop and wait for the police, she put the truck in reverse and struck him with the passenger-side door.
During every election, we hear about thieves who destroy political signs. Usually that is shrugged off as inconsequential.
But when people start to get hurt over such actions, it's time for the rest of us to pay attention. There was a time in Jackson County's history when political dirty tricks were an accepted part of the process. Had this happened 40 years ago, no one would have been surprised.
But not today. Our county is beyond all of that. We have our problems, but our political system is no longer controlled by thieves and thugs.
We don't know who is to blame for Tuesday's incident. Hopefully, the two people will be caught and prosecuted for having endangered Greg Bell's life.
But their assault was more than an assault on one person - it was an attack on our community and on the free and open political process we value.
We should pay attention and demand justice for those involved in this action. As a community, we cannot let our political process fall back into the past.





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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
November 8, 2000

Election reflections
A prediction: In the next local elections, all candidates will qualify on the Republican ballot. Although a few Democrats won this time, it was the last hurrah for the Democratic Party in Jackson County.
The reason I know that is that one local candidate who is totally unqualified to hold public office qualified as a Republican and got over 36 percent of the vote. And that was for an office where party affiliation has no importance!
Actually, most local races should be nonpartisan, but since that won't happen, it'll be better to have all candidates qualify under one party's banner. That way, voters will have to actually consider the merits of each candidate rather than just vote along party lines.


Another prediction: The swing vote on the new Jackson County Board of Commissioners will belong to Stacey Britt. If you thought the alliances in the television show "Survivor" were interesting, just wait until you see the alliances forming on the new BOC.


Jackson County needs to get a hold on its elections process. To be blunt, this election was a mess. Polling places were understaffed and there weren't enough voting booths in the larger precincts. The counting of the ballots took far too long because no one could decide what to do with mismarked ballots. And to add insult to injury, the courthouse offices were closed Wednesday morning at a time when they should have been sorting out the problems from the day before. If I can keep going on just two hours sleep, then anyone can. A priority for the new BOC should be to make sure the next election has the resources to handle the process.

Whatever the final outcome, the Bell-Tolbert race will go down as a Jackson County classic, along with the 1984 Evans-Ward race for sheriff and the 1968 Spence-Davis race for sheriff. (In the latter race, Spence was ahead by one vote out of 5,500 cast. During a recount, some 2,000 ballots were voided since people had marked them by drawing lines through candidates they didn't like rather than circling their choice as they were supposed to.) At one point, there was just a three-vote difference in the Bell-Tolbert race and those of us who stayed for the duration saw it go back and forth several times.


The worst part of this year's elections is how the state parties injected themselves into local legislative races. Often, local candidates didn't even know that was being done under their name. It was an ugly process that was not a credit to either party. Once again, however, the power of negative politics worked. Although voters say they don't like negative politics, they do respond.


Mike Beatty's win over Eddie Madden was a Republican tide too strong for the Democratic incumbent to overcome. But for Beatty, it may prove to be a Faustian bargain. The tone in that race was about as bad as American politics can get. That may haunt Beatty somewhere down the line.
But Beatty did work hard in the race and the state Democratic Party realized too late that Madden was in trouble. Had the Madden campaign gone negative in September and kept the pressure on Beatty, the outcome might have been closer. The money was available to do that, but state Democrats didn't think Madden could lose.


Heard on the street: Sheriff Stan Evans is made of Teflon - he doesn't need a bullet-proof vest.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
November 8, 2000

School System Sees The Onslaught Of Growth
Maybe you missed it, but twice now (including this week), the Commerce Board of Education has looked into its future and seen growth headed for it like a tractor-trailer rig going the wrong way on the interstate.
With the constant talk of growth and planning for growth, no sane person has assumed that the city school system would be exempt, but as the school board attempts to project the growth and its ramifications, some startling numbers appear.
In seven school years, Commerce's independent school system could have from 1,700 to 2,000 students. At present, the city system has 1,300 enrolled and has a need for three more classrooms.
(The situation is similar in Jackson County, where school construction will soon be perpetual.)
Commerce just finished adding classrooms at its elementary and middle schools and its high school renovation is winding to a conclusion (though slower than hoped), but still, more space is needed. Considering that Commerce has approved development of more than 500 housing units and that it continues to receive students from outside the city limits, the growth projections cannot be taken lightly.
Our school system is rapidly changing, and the acceleration of growth will cause more changes. The school system already plans to break its elementary school into a primary school and elementary school and has bought the land for the new school. The growth is fastest in the lower grades, so the middle school will be the next campus to be hit hard, and finally the growth will roar over Commerce High School.
Numbers provided by a consultant looking at growth patterns show a worst-case scenario of more than 50 percent growth in enrollment in six to seven more years. That would call for more than 50 new classrooms, which in turn require teachers and other support staff and facilities. Bigger schools are more expensive schools, and while state funds may cover most of school construction costs, the burden for maintenance and operation of schools still falls heavily on the local taxpayers.
Perhaps as importantly, the influx of students will make it harder for Commerce to maintain the small-school environment that is one of the school system's strengths. To its credit, the board of education hopes to limit school size to maintain that environment as long as possible.
The growth that challenges the board of education will not pay for the cost of educating the new children, nor cover the cost of providing the police and fire protection, road maintenance and other services all people need. That's why city and county leaders court industry. Industry, in turn, creates residential growth, and the circle never ends.
If you can hardly open a local newspaper without reading about growth, get used to it. That will be the major challenge for every city government, every board of education and for every citizen. The evidence will come forth from deliberations of school boards, the board of commissioners, town councils, board of health, water authority, planning and zoning boards and every entity that deals with the public.
Nowhere, however, is the way we handle growth more important than in our schools. The children are coming and by law we must educate them. It will take strong management and supportive communities to provide the space, the teachers and the other resources for the rapidly growing enrollment. Politically, leaders will have to show courage and commitment, sometimes in opposition to parents and taxpayers, to see to it that our larger school system is just as good as ­ or better than ­ the smaller system of today.
The Commerce Board of Education and city and county governments are working hard to be ready. You may get tired of reading about growth, but be glad someone is working to deal with it as it arrives.

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