Local politics is a tricky business. I particularly enjoy Fredericksburg politics, because you can have folks from both sides of the political spectrum come together to work for a common purpose. Spotsylvania politics is another beast altogether. One one side you have the monolithic Spotsylvania GOP – by far the largest and most influential political organization in the area (and arguably in the 1st District). Arrayed against and sometimes along side the Spotsy GOP is a variety of small groups – the NAACP, Voters to Stop Sprawl, Committee of 5(00?), Spotsy Dems, the local VEA, etc.
By and large there are two sacred cows in Spotsylvania politics – taxes and education. Raise taxes and you are dead. Cut education and you are dead. Or so the old line of thinking went after the 1999 elections.
The reason why I am musing over this is because the introduction of growth into Spotsy politics has caused sort of a fallout. Sure everyone opposes sprawl, but how? In what manner? How do you oppose sprawl other than by just saying, “I don’t like traffic.”
In addition, you have opportunists such as Hap Connors who rail against the Town of Chancellorsville with one closed fist while accepting campaign contributions from developers with an open palm. You also have the wild juxtaposition of environmental groups such as VSS endorsing Republican candidates – something you would never see on the national level (and is something to the credit of VSS). Of course, smart growth initiatives cost money, and that means additional sources of revenue. I too can hear my wallet screaming for mercy in five years. . .
I wrote a rather lengthy article in May ’01 concerning the tools that supervisors had to deal with growth. Concentrating new development, downzoning initiatives, preservation of open spaces, axing waste from school budgets, demanding impact assessments from new development, and putting the brakes (or carefully planning) on industrial and commercial growth are all good initiatives. But who is running on these issues? VSS? The Cof5(00)? The Spotsy GOP? Independents? Not even Hap and the Hapinistas are running on solutions to sprawl. Everyone is just plain ol’ “against sprawl.”
Maybe I think that voters are intelligent enough to understand solutions. Maybe I am just rambling (and I am). But there has to be something concrete that lasts well beyond the four year term of our supervisors. High growth localities need more than a short term fix, they need a vision that will carry them through the storm. Certainly there is no way to stop the growth from coming, but there is a method in which we can properly engineer and plan so that growth doesn’t interpret into sprawl.
So I ask you in November, challenge your elected officals to start presenting a vision of how they intend to meet growth. Don’t settle for vague ideas and hazy concepts – ask them why public schools cost twice as much as private schools. Ask them whether new developments are going to “pay their own way,” and if not how they intend to compensate the county for the services existing taxpayers provide. Above all else, force the issue and demand accountability. Too many fixed income residents and first time homeowners are being pushed out for this issue to die quietly under political rhetoric.