Tuesday, September 21, 2010

ROBB V. CHRISTIANSON: Is two-party rule at County Hall best?

The upcoming Boone County Commission race between former State Representative and MU economist Ed Robb (R), and former Columbia Tribune columnist J. Scott Christianson (D, below right), may promise something Republican presiding commissioner Keith Schnarre was never able to deliver. 
If Robb (left) wins, his more forceful opposition voice on the three-person Commission -- if he chooses to use it -- could bring a long-overdue, much-needed good tiding to county government:  the kind of populism that puts John and Jane Q Public over Stan and Ann Walton Kroenke, average wage earners and small business people over big business and powerful patrons.
Boone County Commissioners, for instance, spent millions of dollars buying land and buildings in downtown Columbia from members of the local economo-legal glitterati.  Overpriced even by appraisal standards, much square feet still stands empty.  And as the school district cuts budgets and raises property taxes, Commissioners have taken millions of dollars in taxable real estate permanently off the property tax rolls.
For years, the only populist voice at County Hall has been Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin (D).  
Though he did vote for the building acquisitions, Elkin has otherwise tried to move county government away from policies that raise taxes on average folks and raise spending on big players. 
Most famously, Elkin advocated for a so-called "Mental Health Care" tax and against the gargantuan Boone County office space expansion tax of 2007.  He lost on both counts. 
Elkin also publicly advocated for bigger payments from local governments to the Central Missouri Humane Society, which hurts for private donations, but takes in animals from local government agencies with inadequate compensation.    Elkin lost that battle, too. 
Elkin's advocacy has never gained traction because his peers don't see it as a priority.  With no real opposition, politicians aren't forced to stand up for the average voter.  Come election or appointment time, the mostly-Democrat politicians at County Hall pass their jobs from one party insider to the next, talking the talk but rarely walking the walk (their votes against property tax hikes on average voters two years running has been a welcome exception). 
It's a strange irony of partisan politics, but Republican Robb could change this dynamic, forcing Democrat Elkin's voter-centric causes to become a priority among the other Democrats who govern Boone County. 

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