Local Election Outcomes Highlight an Inefficient and Broken System

by | Nov 4, 2020 | Elections | 0 comments

The votes are still rolling in but we have some thoughts on the results so far.

Persistent Failure of School Levies

School levies, for the most part, failed throughout the Miami Valley. They often fail, which is why they will probably reappear on the ballot during a “special election” (the primary) in May when only about 10% of the electorate shows up to the polls. Ohio, like many states, uses local property taxes to fund schools with a little bit of money coming from the state. If a school needs more money, a ballot initiative goes to voters asking them to approve the increase.

What does this mean? Some schools, like Oakwood, are fantastic. Other schools struggle for funding. While levy renewals in these stronger districts passed, new levies in struggling districts failed. Families with the means to do so shop around for the best school district, which means that the disparity between the best and worst school districts just continues to increase. This funding system was declared unconstitutional in 1997, but the state just ignored the ruling and continues to violate the Ohio Constitution’s requirement of a “thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State.”

In the future, we will look deeper at the problems of our school system, but the key takeaway is that these levies should not appear on the ballot at all. Everyone in the state should pay taxes to the state for school funding, and schools should receive an equal amount of that funding relative to how many students they have. There should also be a lot less than 608 school districts, with a lot less overpaid superintendents, treasurers and incompetent school board members saying “they are in it for the kids.”

Some People Like Roads…Others Do Not

Road levies, like school levies, are hit or miss. The city of Union and Harrison Township both voted in favor of a tax to maintain their roads and bridges while Riverside voted against one. The problem with looking at road funding from a hyper-local perspective is that roads exist for more than the residents of a particular locality. If you live in east Dayton, you probably drive through Riverside quite a bit. You probably aren’t even quite aware of when you enter and exit Riverside because it exists as six non-contiguous islands within the city of Dayton.

A more regional government would allow the county to prioritize repairing the most damaged roads, consolidate costs for efficiency, and bring costs down by having more negotiating power with contractors. Now, when people visit the Air Force Museum they will be forced to drive on Riverside’s unmaintained roads to get there.

A Rough Day for Our Endorsements

We endorsed Zach Dickerson (D) for Montgomery County Clerk of Courts and John McManus (R) for Montgomery County Treasurer. Mike Foley has been declared the winner for Clerk of Courts and McManus won by a slim margin. There are still 10 days for mail in ballots to arrive, but, all they might do is make it close enough for an automatic recount. The Dayton Daily is still reporting incorrectly that Russ Joseph is ahead, while the Board of Elections lists McManus ahead.

Zach Dickerson’s loss is extremely frustrating. Despite being much better qualified than incumbent Mike Foley, Dickerson lost by a fairly significant margin. While Trump’s success seemed to have helped down-ballot Republicans in Montgomery County, Foley actually received more votes from the county than the president. Perhaps the Foley name helped, as Dan Foley (no relation) held a County Commission seat for a long time, or perhaps Mike Foley’s schmoozing has earned him a large base of support in the county. Under Foley’s watch, the Clerk of Courts was infected with malware despite being warned about the vulnerability far ahead of time. Unfortunately, that’s not the type of news that draws a lot of attention. We hope Zach will run again in the future. No candidate in this election cycle was better suited or qualified for their desired office.

When it comes to McManus v. Joseph, neither were ideal candidates. McManus would probably be better suited for Clerk of Courts while Joseph lacks any obvious qualifications for any professional job. McManus was clearly the better choice. The Democrats who have managed to hang on in the county have all been incumbents, and Joseph may be poised to leverage the incumbency that the local Democratic party appointed him with to an electoral victory. It should be noted that McManus, in his last run against Jim Butler for State Rep 41st district, did much better than his successor, Cate Berger did against Andrea White with no incumbent in the race. Had the Dems kept McManus and ran him again for the 41st congressional district, he would have probably won. Same could be said for the Republicans, who should have run Leitzell again for County Commission. He almost beat Debbie Lieberman with 49.1% of the vote in 2016 despite receiving no aid from the local Republican party.

In both cases, we think that the races were largely shaped by a lack of voter information. We need to do a better job of informing the public about our local candidates, what they stand for, and what their qualifications are. The local news has failed to do this, so a voter information center is desperately needed. In the meantime, Reconstructing Dayton will attempt to pick up the slack.

The Coattail Effect is Probably Real

Montgomery County is typically run by Democrats but Donald Trump is uniquely popular in Ohio. This has created a coattail effect, where down-ballot Republicans have benefited from the top ticket strength. For the state legislature, Republicans have once again dominated, with Willis Blackshear Jr. being the only Democrat from Miami Valley to win state office. Although Trump appears to have narrowly lost Montgomery County, the high turnout seems to have hurt local Democrats.

Just like in 2016, when Trump won the county, incumbent County Commissioners Debbie Lieberman and Judy Dodge appear poised to hang on to their seats by the thinnest of margins. The successes of Foley and McManus may also be attributable to Trump’s popularity. Republicans appear to be making in-roads when seeking county offices. Back in 2012, when Democrats had Obama’s coattails to ride, they swept the county offices with fairly comfortable margins. The same thing happened in 2018, when Democrats performed well nationally and Ohioans sent Sherrod Brown back to the U.S. Senate. It will be interesting to see if the Trump effect is isolated to 2016 and 2020 or if the county is shifting more red.

Party Hegemony is Here to Stay

Despite the interesting mix of Democratic and Republican winners at the county level, we suspect that party hegemony will remain consistent elsewhere. State Republicans have legislative districts so gerrymandered that single party rule will continue for the foreseeable future. The few Democrats that the districts allow, such as Willis Blackshear Jr. of the 39th district, will have nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs at the state house.

Meanwhile, most cities, townships, and villages will remain under the power of one party or the other. Why does it matter what party a local official belongs to? What policies on the national platforms actually trickle down to the local level? Yet partisans from around the county lined up to throw their support behind guys like Russ Joseph and Mike Foley, neither of whom is qualified for the positions they sought. We need to divorce local politics from political parties.

Unfortunately, even if we gain some semblance of bi-partisan rule at the county level, we will still be stuck with the party duopoly. The two parties will continue to scratch each others’ backs, make it difficult for independent candidates to run, and avoid empowering voters.

It’s Good to Run Unopposed

There were nine county seats up for grabs yesterday and five of them were unopposed. That’s five elected positions that voters had no options for: Prosecutor, Sheriff, Recorder, Coroner, and Engineer. Why do we even bother electing these positions? These are jobs that pay $90,000+ and no one wants to take a shot at them. It seems hard to believe that Rob Streck is the only cop in the county that wants to be Sheriff when it pays around four times what a typical police officer makes. It’s pretty obvious that, while these are technically elected positions, the parties will rarely support challenging incumbents. It’s been a long time since the Democrats ran a candidate for Sheriff and apparently it’s just considered rude to challenge an incumbent Coroner or Engineer.

Then there are the judges. Per tradition, incumbent judges faced no challengers. At this point, we might as well make judges lifetime positions. When we interviewed David Brannon, who ended up winning the gavel for probate judge, he admitted that one of the appeals of the job is that he could hold it for decades to come. While we can’t fault Brannon for that, it does not reflect well on the system that he will continue to appear on the ballot unopposed.

We’ll Give ‘em a Chance

Although not all of the winners were our preferred candidates, we believe in giving all the elected candidates a chance. We’re all part of the same economic and cultural region and we want all of our elected officials to have success. But success means enacting meaningful policies that help Dayton area citizens, not just enriching themselves and holding onto cushy jobs. We look forward to working with local politicians to do better for the Dayton region. And we’ll hold them accountable when they fail to do so.

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