The Obligatory Election Roundup

Editorial written by James Baughn on Wednesday, August 9, 2000

from the the-great-american-popularity-contest dept.

The cowboy lost... the aging Coroner won, but the aging Public Administrator lost... the perennial candidates will try again next time... the barrage of 158th District campaign advertisements has ended, for now... Jim Drury wasted his money... all twelve Dutchtown voters say "Yes"... and Jackson Junior High students will continue to face overcrowding, just like us old-timers did.

It's time for The Cape Rock's roundup of local August 8th election results. Read on for the numbers, the losers, and the irreverent commentary.

158th District Race

Republicans
Jason Crowell... 63.00% (1,876 votes)
Jay Purcell... 26.63% (793)
Stan Wicks... 10.38% (309)

Democrat
Tom Neumeyer... 100% (769 votes -- but there were 904 ballots)

Of all the contests, the race for 158th State Representative was really the only major one that didn't involve token or perennial candidates with virtually no chance of winning. Term limits prevented the incumbent Mary Kasten from seeking re-election, a situation that often leads to a hotly contested race involving a lot of campaigning, a lot of mud-slinging, and a lot of hype.

But behind all of the smoke, all three Republican candidates had very similar platforms. Could you tell them apart? It was difficult:

  • All three wanted to muzzle state spending and tax collection. Crowell supported "greater accountability to state spending", Purcell wanted to lower state taxes, and Wicks said "taxes are too high".

  • All three had plans to improve education (or so they claimed). Wicks and Crowell specifically called for "local control of schools". In particular, Crowell had a proposal for giving gambling revenue directly to local districts on a per pupil basis, "thus bypassing the state bureaucrats". Meanwhile, Purcell wanted to bring in more state funding for the Cape public school system.

  • Crowell and Purcell had plans for spending the Missouri tobacco settlement. Both wanted (part of) the money to go towards prescription drugs (either as a subsidy for the elderly or as a tax credit for everyone).

  • Crowell and Purcell both complained about the Missouri Department of Transportation. Crowell wanted to complete the vaporous 15 year plan, while Purcell intended to reorganize the whole department. Naturally, they wanted to bring in more money for Southeast Missouri projects; Purcell was particularly interested in fixing Center Junction (easier said than done).

    Of course, bringing in additional funding for the region and reducing state spending and taxation are both mutually exclusive ideas. But logic isn't going to stop a political candidate.

While the issues were the usual Republican fare, the candidates themselves were quite different. They represented the usual three types of office seekers:

  1. The overachieving college graduate who is buddy-buddy with party bigwigs and has ambitions that reach far beyond some Missouri city.

  2. The city councilman who also has powerful connections and, unlike the others, some experience in political offices above the level of "student government".

  3. The successful businessman that has little backing within the party establishment because he didn't schmooze and butt-kiss.

As is often the case, the overachieving butt-kisser wins the election while the others go on to become perennial candidates. Although sometimes it would be nice if the opposite were true.

8th Congressional District

Democrats
Earl Durnell... 42.90% (22,530 votes across district)
Bob Camp... 57.10% (29,989)

Republican
Jo Ann Emerson (Incumbent).... 100%

Democrats Durnell and Camp were engaged in a mild race for US Representative from the 8th district (which spans from Cape Girardeau west to Howell County and covers most of Southeast Missouri). However, it all seems rather futile; Jo Ann Emerson, the Republican incumbent, is almost certain to win in November anyways.

Earl Durnell, as you might remember, was the one wearing the big cowboy hat in his print advertisements. I would like to hereby propose "Baughn's Number One Rule For Winning Missouri Elections: Never wear a cowboy hat in public during your campaign." Durnell wanted to present a "common man" image, which is okay; however, nothing says "Redneck" louder than a cowboy hat. My suggestion to Durnell: Don't wear any kind of hat next time, and maybe you might win for a change.

Cape Girardeau Transportation Tax Extension

Yes... 53.63% (2,011 votes)
No.... 46.37% (1,739)

This five-year extension to the one-half percent city sales tax passed with little interest. The only controversy sprung from Jim Drury's full-page ads decrying the poor handling and burgeoning expenses of the original five-year transportation plan. Of course, what Mr. Drury really meant to say was: "Dammit, the city didn't spend enough money building fancy roads to my hotels!"

Dutchtown Sales Tax

In Dutchtown, every vote matters. All twelve voters approved a sales tax to help build a levee protecting the town.

Republican Cape County Races

Coroner
Wayne Godwin... 26.01% (1,701 votes)
John Carpenter (Incumbent)... 58.40% (3,819)
Don Gast... 15.58% (1,019)

Public Administrator
Phyllis Schwab... 55.09% (3,787)
John Ferguson (Incumbent)... 30.43% (2,092)
Kennetth Bryan... 14.74% (995)

It's not often that you see an entrenched incumbent lose by such a margin, but it happened here. Of course, the fact that Phyllis Schwab is the wife of State Representative David Schwab might have something to do with it...

Jackson School Issues

Bond issue (additions to the overcrowded Junior High) Yes... 54.90% (2,712) -- Required a majority of four-sevenths, or 57.1%
No... 45.10% (2,228)

Tax rollback (to cover increased operating expenses)
Yes... 44.61% (2,172)
No... 55.39% (2,697)

In a previous election, the bond issue failed by a larger margin. Many opponents were upset that the district wanted to build yet another elementary school in addition to the Junior High renovations. In this election, the district dropped the new elementary school from the bond issue.

So, it's not entirely clear why a significant number of people were opposed. Tax increases have always been unpopular in Missouri (which is a good thing!), which might explain it. Also, the naysayers might be getting back at the school board, which hasn't been the most popular institution in town. (But then school board members are some of the most universally despised elected officials in the history of Democracy. And sometimes they deserve it.)

Another issue is whether the overcrowding at R. O. Hawkins is bad enough to warrant an expansion in the first place. Certainly the school is well over capacity, but it's been like that since at least 1990. In 1994-95, when I had the displeasure of attending, the school housed three grades and had an enrollment approaching 900. The next year the 7th graders were shooed off to the new Middle School, but enrollment still exceeded capacity even then. So how come the expansion hasn't been proposed until now?

On the other hand, the relative quality of the Jackson school district is the primary reason the town has been growing so fast. The industry is nice too, but the school system is what brings people here. So, it works like this:

  1. Lots of families move to town hoping to escape from other crappy public school systems.
  2. That growth leads to school overcrowding.
  3. Voters approve tax increases to build more schools.
  4. More people move in and overcrowding continues.
  5. After awhile, voters get fed up with bond issues and put their feet down.
  6. Eventually the quality of the education deteriorates with the overcrowding and the inadequate funding.
  7. Everybody flees in horror.
  8. The tax base collapses and the schools start to resemble Cape Central (just kidding).

We're somewhere near Stage 5. Whether Jackson moves to Stage 3 or 6 will be decided in a future election; you can be sure this bond issue will appear again! Either that or the school board will find some other "creative" funding source, just like SEMO did with the River Campus. But even if the money is found to renovative the Junior High, the district will still find itself in the same jam a few years down the road...