David Rodeback's Blog

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Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Notes on the Election

First, here are the unofficial results. The official results will change a little, mostly because of provisional and absentee ballots, but not enough to change the overall outcome.

Next, thanks for reading. I've run into a number of folks around the city lately who have told me they enjoy reading my blog. Some of them even insist that I have a sense of humor. For what it's worth, I didn't start blogging for the campaign, and I'll still be blogging after the campaign. Local politics might be a little less dominant a theme for a while, now that the election is over, but the general principle remains: Basically, if I have something local to say, I go local. If not, I typically go national, or sometimes write nothing at all.

Next, let's evaluate my predictions.

  • I was predicting a Heber Thompson win in the mayoral debate, but with a margin of only a few hundred votes. Councilman Shirl LeBaron was second in the primary by a margin of almost three-to-one; yesterday, the ratio was about two-to-one. I thought he'd make a stronger showing yesterday.
  • In the four-year council race (two seats), I expected a finish in this order: Terry Fox, Heidi Rodeback, Councilman Jimmie Cates, Councilmember Belmont, with an outside chance that Fox would be damaged enough by Thursday's dishonorable attack that he would slip to second place. In the actual event, he slipped to third; the sequence was Rodeback, Cates, Fox, and Belmont.
  • No surprises in the two-year (half-term) council race: Dale Gunther handily defeated Marc Ellison, as I and everyone else I know predicted.

So I give my own crystal ball work decidedly mixed reviews. I did well on the no-brainers, not so well on the tricky ones.

Next item: Councilman Cates, who finished second, ahead of Terry Fox, is a good man and a good councilman, in my opinion. So when I say Fox's defeat is doubly disappointing to me because it means the bad guys won, I certainly don't mean Councilman Cates is one of the bad guys. By "bad guys" I mean the little cabal that doesn't have the decency to ask questions when they can still be answered, but waits to run their sleazy page of large-print libel until no proper and thorough response is possible before the election.

Speaking of which, yesterday afternoon I read the 25 comments that had been made so far at the Herald's site on Sunday's article, which revealed that Councilman Rick Storrs paid for the nasty anti-Fox ad. Most of the comments were negative about the former chief, some bitterly or even wildly so. A few were positive about Fox and negative about the sleaze. Some of his few defenders gave real names. None of the attackers did.

Moving on, I <blush> mistakenly called candidate Marc Ellison "Rob Ellison" in my November 7 blog. It's a long but essentially boring story. I have repaired the error.

Finally, the newly-elected officials in American Fork take office early in January. It will be interesting to watch the first few months:

  • Will new Mayor Heber Thompson and vanquished mayoral candidate Shirl LeBaron, who is still on the City Council, pull together or pull apart? Together, I expect -- especially if LeBaron wants to run for mayor again in the future. 
  • Will they both work well with new Councilman Dale Gunther, who some folks unrealistically suspect might be pulling Thompson's strings? I think so.
  • Will blogging Councilors LeBaron and Rodeback, with Thompson's blessing, be the driving force behind a new attitude toward communications and public relations at the City? Probably.
  • Will some senior staff and department heads be uncomfortable enough with the new regime that they will find employment elsewhere? Very likely. At least one or two may have some official encouragement in that transition.
  • Will Councilman Storrs resign in shame, and be replaced by the next-highest vote-getter, Terry Fox, in a delicious irony? Probably not. Despite some talk of a recall election with his name on it, the sleazy episode will probably simply blow over, until and unless he tries to run for re-election in 2005. Will he get along with the new leaders if he stays? Will they trust him enough to work with him? Probably, yes to both, within limits.

If nothing else, we'll soon get to see who the adults are.

Modernizing our city government, minimizing litigation, keeping folks happy while solving water and traffic issues, rationalizing parts of our municipal code and making enforcement consistent, managing growth without frustrating it -- all of this, plus much more, will make the next two-to-four years quite challenging for our leaders. I suspect that this group has both the ability to do very well, the inclination to work openly and collegially, and the skills and commitment to communicate with the rest of us conscientiously. So there's a decent chance that most of us residents will end up content with their efforts.

Finally, there is tension in American Fork between the long-established residents, who have lived their lives in and around American Fork, and the newer (not always younger) residents, who have lived much of their lives outide Utah County, and who are, on average, better educated. This tension is not new, but its dynamic is changing. The small-towners, as I'll call the more established group, seems to want American Fork to be what it was in 1960, but with better restaurants and shopping; they are uneasy about changes both past and future. The newer, more cosmopolitan residents are beginning to assert themselves and, not fearing change itself, are attempting to exert enough control over it that growth does not destroy community. Both groups have valid interests. Some of what the small-towners wish to preserve still exists, can feasibly be preserved, and is well worth preserving. But preserving it, and taking simultaneous advantage of the opportunities growth and modernity provide, will require a more aggressive and insightful politics than the small-town mentality can muster. Yesterday's election, and Rodeback's victory in particularly, is a significant step forward in what is almost a generational change in American Fork politics. This changing character of the city and its politics is one of the most promising omens for American Fork's future. It has been a long time coming, and it's not over yet.

Jon Finch comments (11/11/05):

Quote from blog: "Finally, there is tension in American Fork between the long-established residents, who have lived their lives in and around American Fork, and the newer (not always younger) residents, who have lived much of their lives outide Utah County, and who are, on average, better educated."

What do you mean by "better educated"? Sounds a little disingenuous to me.  Are you implying that they are just dumb farmers or are you saying that they don't understand (or haven't thought through) these civic issues?  How does being a "newer resident" make one more educated?

[signed] Jon Finch (newer (not always younger) AF resident)

David Rodeback replies (11/11/05):

Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading. By "better educated" I mean having had more formal schooling. (I know, the two sometimes diverge.) I don't think better education necessarily correlates with intelligence; nor does having spent more years in a classroom suggest some sort of moral superiority. I know some very intelligent farmers, with and without college degrees. If I have a best personal friend in American Fork, he is a fellow who mostly had a blue-collar career, but he's one of the best and smartest people I know. On the other hand, I know some folks with advanced degrees who leave me wondering how they ever managed to get them. Nor does being a newcomer make one more educated -- but the newcomers do tend to be more educated, which is not the same thing. In general (not in every specific case) it seems to me that lifelong residents of American Fork (or Lehi, Highland, or Pleasant Grove) are more likely to be farmers, steelworkers, or other blue-collar folks, at least by background, while the newcomers are very likely to be college graduates employed in high technology. Again, I don't think being a white- or blue-collar worker implies anything useful about intelligence or moral character, but, statistically speaking, it says something about the likelihood of higher education.

So why does more schooling matter? While it is likely that people who have spent more time in school have probably taken more government and history courses which would help them understand local politics and issues, that's not my point. My experience is that people with less formal education are less likely to be confident in their ability to navigate government bureaucracy and resist its abuses, less likely to be confident in their ability to effect desired changes in government, and less likely to study issues in depth, which generally involves careful research and reading. Moreover, college campuses tend to be hotbeds of political debate, so people who have spent years on them are likely to have heard a very wide range of political views, passionately and often intelligently argued, and to have had to defend their own views cogently from time to time. There are plenty of exceptions going both ways, of course, but it seems like a general tendency to me.

Why does it matter that people have lived elsewhere? Relative newcomers generally seem less inclined to accept the status quo in their local government, having not grown up with it. They are also more likely to have seen and absorbed a wide range of ideas and practices in local government, having lived under other local governments. I'm not saying we should do everything, or even very much, just as Alexandria or Palo Alto does it, but I think it's a valuable thing if some of our leaders have broader horizons. It is also is valuable to have some long-time residents in office, for historical perspective, among other things. I'm not straddling the fence on this; I really think a mix of both is useful.

We're on the verge of having a fairly even mix, which was also reflected in the recent campaigns. Consider some of the candidates whose names were on the ballot Tuesday. I believe Councilmembers Cates and Belmont and Councilman-elect Dale Gunther have essentially spent their lives in or near American Fork. I don't know about candidate Terry Fox. The rest have been around more. Besides spending 10 or 11 of his most formative years in Washington State, and despite living for a quarter-century, now, in American Fork, our mayor-elect, Heber Thompson, has lived in Utah, Arizona, California, Minnesota, New York, and Paris. His opponent, current Councilman Shirl LeBaron, has lived in Newfoundland and Louisiana, in addition to Utah County. Unsuccessful city council candidate Marc Ellison has spent much of his life in eastern Virginia; he spoke repeatedly during the campaign of some things he has seen elsewhere, which he thinks might be useful for American Fork. Councilmember-elect Heidi Rodeback grew up near Seattle and lived for almost a decade in upstate New York before moving to American Fork.

So, again, I'm not staying either group in American Fork is better or worse, smarter or dumber, etc. I am saying that there are some other kinds of differences, on the average, and I think those differences are politically relevant.

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