The most important countywide election, that for the county mayor's seat for the next two years, was never expected to provide much suspense. Jim Coppinger, who has occupied the post on an interim appointment since Claude Ramsey resigned 20 months ago, was the only well-known candidate. And he is a Republican, which is all that really seems to matter nowadays in county elections.
But if his easy victory over Democrat Rick Wilson, who self-financed his forward-looking campaign, is no surprise, we hope his leadership style will be going forward. Coppinger has been so cautious since he took over the seat that any leadership skills have been hard to detect. Now is his time to show his vision.
Hamilton County urgently needs a forward-looking leader who will represent the interest of all the county's constituents, not just the 30 percent who reside in the unincorporated areas of the county. His goal should be to step up to the challenges of rapid urban growth throughout the county as our economic development boom ripens, avoiding haphazard sprawl and starting up consolidated urban services.
True, that would mean adopting the incremental service-consolidation agenda that Wilson laid out. Never mind. Coppinger needs to make sure that county government tackles this challenge in a way that provides smart growth and broad tax equity for the 70 percent of county taxpayers who reside in the county's 10 incorporated municipalities.
This doesn't require metro. It requires just a county charter, regular collaboration with the other municipal mayors and a strong vision. If Coppinger has the metal to tackle this challenge — and the wherewithal to boost funding and quality in all public schools, including the inner school schools — he'll go down as an important leader. If he fails, well — it's the county's loss, as well as his.
In two other county government races, Republicans won by the same predictable edge — two-thirds of the vote total, or better. Aging Assessor of Property Bill Bennett retained his seat by the same wide margin over Jelena Butler, and District 3's Marty Haynes did the same, keeping the County a no-new-idea men's club through his defeat of Mitzi Yates. Both the Democratic women challengers offered energy, more transparency and interesting new ideas and agendas, but Republican voters shut them down.
Other primary races whose victors will surely be favored in November's elections provided more surprising results. The Republican primary in the state 10th Senatorial district was originally presumed to be a cakewalk for Greg Vital, whose deep pockets provided a heavy advantage over Todd Gardenhire, a veteran GOP insider. Given Vital's missteps and Gardenhire's tenacity, the race turned into a bare-knuckle fight that ended with Gardenhire upsetting Vital by just 15 votes in the unofficial final tally Thursday night. City Councilman Andrae McGary easily won the Democratic primary in the same state Senate District 10 race.
In the Democratic primary for the 28th District state House, which through redistricting pitted incumbent state representatives JoAnne Favors and Tommie Brown against each other, Favors won handily with heavy backing from the old Democratic party leadership.
In three contested county school board seats, thoughtful newcomers Jonathan Welch (District 2) and Donna Horn (District 7) captured seats surrendered by Chip Baker and Linda Mosley, respectively. They can be expected to provide constructive balance against Rhonda Thurman (District 1), who unfortunately won another term over challenger Katherine Benefield, an insightful veteran educator.
In the closely watched Republican primary race, incumbent 3rd District Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and young Weston Wamp were trampling Scottie Mayfield in Hamilton County balloting — a result that Mayfield invited by not engaging in debates and articulating a clear platform. In the same 3rd District's Democratic primary, Dr. Mary Headrick, a far-better qualified candidate for the office any of the Republicans, led opponent Bill Taylor in Hamilton County by a 2-to-1 margin. District vote totals were not available.