Clemons: Local races 'drain the swamp'

I told a group of visitors the other day politics has to be my favorite contact sport, even more than football.

We didn’t get anything on the scale of the Super Bowl of politics this week. That was a year ago when Americans made their voices heard for president. But we did get a chance to sound off in some local races, and the results were indicative of larger trends sweeping the nation.

News owner Patrick Graham and I discussed the results of races in Newton and Walton counties Wednesday morning, and I think he put it well: “That ‘drain the swamp’ mentality is everywhere.”

Both incumbents running for re-election to the Covington City Council lost their jobs. Susie Keck, a relative newcomer to the city, bounced Councilman Chris Smith in the East Ward. In the West Ward, Anthony Henderson knocked off Councilwoman Ocie Franklin and strong challenger Jeffrey Johnson.

(An aside: Johnson impressed us, and I hope he won’t be discouraged by the setback Tuesday. He was a bright candidate who seemed to have a lot to offer.)

Social Circle was similarly unkind to incumbents, with school board members Jamie Peterson and Charlie Akin (recently chosen as vice chairman of the board) losing to Rico Jackson and Sabrina Sanford-Flint, respectively.

We saw this trend play out across the area and the state — the whole country, really.

In Walton County, Monroe voters bounced their three-term incumbent mayor. Two first-time candidates will meet in a December runoff.

In Loganville, candidates from the city’s old guard went down hard. Instead, the new mayor was the head of Donald Trump’s outreach to Latino voters in the state last year. Mayor-elect Rey Martinez even campaigned with eventual Vice President Mike Pence.

Atlanta voters reduced a longtime state senator (Vincent Fort), city council president (Ceasar Mitchell), city councilman (Kwanza Hall) and Fulton County Board of Commissioners chairman (John Eaves) to something just north of also-ran status.

And three seats in the General Assembly switched to Democratic control after being held by Republicans, including one in reliably red Oconee County.

Nationally, we saw not a political revolution, but definitely a message.

The biggest show of force was in Virginia, where a candidate who got a tweet of endorsement from Trump on the morning of Election Day lost big, and the Democrats made big gains in the legislature.

“Voters are taking their anger out at the president, and the only way they can do that is by going after Republicans on the ballot,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., told The New York Times.

“If this isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.”

The question is, what will Republicans do about it? Democrats and more moderate Republicans believe it’s a sign people are tiring of Trump’s bombast and the far-right fringe that’s been empowered by him.

Core supporters of the president seem more inclined to think the problem is candidates who don’t fully embrace the “Make America Great Again” platform. Indeed, that’s what Trump himself tweeted about Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Ed Gillespie, claiming the candidate “did not embrace me or what I stand for.”

Elections sometimes are a sign of a larger trend, but other times occur in a vacuum. These off-off-year elections especially can be hard to nail down. For years now, the party in power in the White House has come up in the losing end of the Virginia governor’s race.

But where Republican Bob McDonnell’s landslide victory in 2009 presaged a GOP takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives a year later in a stark rebuke of President Barack Obama, the win by Democrat Mark Warner in 2001 really told us very little about what happened a year later as Republicans reclaimed control of the U.S. Senate.

2018 will be another interesting year. Half the Newton County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education will be up for election, as will all seats in the General Assembly and the governor and other state executive branch offices.

As they say on commercials for mutual funds, past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance. So take this year with a grain of salt — but also remember even a grain of salt can stand out in a glass of water.

David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is dclemons@covnews.com. Twitter: @scoopclemons.