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With a trio of local elections coming up next year, perhaps this would be a good time to reconvene the unofficial, perhaps fictitious Boone County Hot Stove Political Club. In times past, loosely organized groups of politically-minded residents would gather at some hideaway, perhaps lubricated by a Niagara of corn liquor, to ruminate, speculate, motivate and even ambulate the candidacy of individuals for office, with the promise that, if elected, they would carry out the wishes of this merry little band of moonshiners. With a few months remaining before the filing window for city offices is nailed shut, and somewhat longer for county offices, the mood of the electorate borders on a quasi-revolt, leading perhaps to the termination of the political careers of a number of officeholders in both realms of area governance. The potential for a shift in direction in Columbia is predicated on who the next mayor will be and whether or not incumbents in wards three and four are permitted to remain in office. No less significant would be the possible eclipse of Boone County’s three commissioners by a potential bloc of challengers, who decide we’ve had enough of them and run for office successfully.
The Democratic Party’s overwhelming dominance of Boone County politics dates back to pre-Civil War days. There was a long drought when Republicans didn’t even bother to run for county office and where the greatest excitement came from single party primaries to sort out the aspirants for a “sure thing” victory. One recalls the near-earthquake on November 8, 1966 when the late Major George W. Parker Sr. (1923-2009), a highly decorated World War II Army-Air Force combat pilot running as a Republican, defeated attorney Scott Orr in a race to represent the 120th District, which encompassed Boone County in the state legislature. In more recent years, ideological wobbles among Democrats nationally have eaten away at party loyalty, especially among rural constituents, allowing an occasional Republican in Boone County to gain admittance as a commissioner to the august chambers of the Court House. We will have to see if any opposition materializes versus incumbent office holders, and whether they surface among fellow Democrats poised for an August primary challenge, or whether the GOP will extricate itself from the umbra of obscurity to endorse challengers in their own right to win on November 8, 2016.
Several issues guaranteed to elicit controversy in next year’s race among this troika of county commissioners will include the future of the Boone County Events Center, and the recent eviction of the annual Boone County Fair. There are several matters wrapped up as contentious ideological issues that some would argue were mishandled as they collectively buckled to the agitated. This led to the removal of a six-ton rock from the southwest corner of courthouse lawn and the ruckus about a smaller, less conspicuous slab of stone several score feet northeast of it: a monument honoring two deceased Desert Storm veterans, inconveniently tagged with a religious symbol that offended a group of nincompoops somewhere back east. The passage of a quarter percent “mental health” sales tax in a special one-issue initiative petition election by a tiny, decidedly unrepresentative minority of highly energized special interest group voters may have forever poisoned the once-giving well for the passage of any sales tax and bond issue propositions from now on. While defending Boone County government as overwhelmingly honest and well-managed, the mechanism is a relic of the past. Maybe there will be candidates and a supportive electorate who are now ready to steel themselves for another plunge into the icy waters of home rule.
Political party labels for both the mayor and council members have been a moot point for Columbia once home rule was approved on March 29, 1949. Judgmentally, we love to label people. Here’s a go at it. The Columbia City Council now includes five Democrats and two Republicans. Five “progressives” and two who are not. Five who are in concert with the “gown” and two who represent the town. Five who favor no growth and two who are for it. Five who espouse personal agendas and talk too much against two who are less prone to activism and endless babbling. Columbia is a city whose electorate is closely divided based on the results of recent elections where several “winners” squeaked across the finish line with comparatively low two-digit vote margins. One recent election appeared to gerrymander and discourage representative turnout from a rapidly growing, somewhat isolated suburban neighborhood in one ward on the city’s eastern edge by concentrating a quartet of polling places one could argue was deliberately placed in neighborhoods where the winner, by 34 votes, had the election in the bag to begin with. Had there been a more geographically equitable placement of places to vote, it’s likely CVS would be building their drugstore at the southeast corner of Providence and Broadway.
The sorry saga of CVS is just another notch in the richly decorated continuum of contentious controversies that have graced the history of Columbia over the years. Anyone interested in diving into this swirling volcano of elective office volunteerism has until early January to make his or her wishes known. The pay is hardly compensatory, but aspirants will end up compensating consultants. This is not a job for those who are easily frustrated; upset by insults, the loss of personal privacy and blasts on the Internet; or who are otherwise fragile of mind and spirit. Some of these points have traditionally darkened the appeal of running for elective office among members of the city’s business community. Maybe it’s now or never for this group to recruit and support candidates for office, irrespective of party label. Business people who eschew some of the radical tendencies they allege exist among several council members need to marshal their forces and come up with a trio of winners on Tuesday April 5, 2016 or quit their grousing. CBT
Al Germond is the host of the Columbia Business Times Sunday Morning Roundtable at 8:15 a.m. Sundays on KFRU. He can be reached at al@columbiabusiness times.com.