The above graphic provides the results of Tuesday’s run-off for Milton City Council District 1, Post 1. Congratulations to Ms. Andrea Verhoff, who won with nearly 63% of the vote. Thank you to both candidates, Ms. Verhoff and Ms. Tucker, for running for Milton City Council. Our community benefits from competitive elections. Unfortunately, Milton historically has had very few competitive races. In 2021, 100% of the races in our sister cities (Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs) were competitive. However, in Milton, only 1 in 4 races (25%) in 2021 were competitive. This is not a statistic that citizens should be proud about. A lack of competitive races has negative consequences for Milton’s governance. I’ll have more to say about this in a future blog post.
Today’s post provides some perspectives on the District 1 run-off. The most interesting story of the race was the steep drop-off in support for Ms. Tucker between the general election and the run-off. In the general election, Ms. Tucker garnered nearly 46% of the vote; in the run-off, only 37%. What happened? It seemed that a run-off victory was easily within Ms. Tucker’s grasp. Ms. Tucker needed to capture only a sliver of the votes for the 3rd place finisher, Adam D’Anella, and/or else persuade a small number of new voters to come aboard. A distant second in the general election (with 34% of the vote), Ms. Verhoff had a much steeper hill to climb to capture a majority of voters. Surprisingly, given Ms. Tucker’s garnering 37% of the vote (vs. 46% in the general election), it seems that not only did Ms. Verhoff capture nearly all of the earlier D’Anella votes, but she stripped away significant support from Ms. Tucker—i.e., voters changed their minds about Ms. Tucker—and perhaps attracted a large number of new voters. So what were the factors contributing to this dramatic change of fortunes for the candidates? Following is my take on the five factors that resulted in such as big swing in support away from Ms. Tucker and toward Ms. Verhoff.
Endorsements. Two endorsements were key. The first was the endorsement of Adam D’Anella, the 3rd place finisher in the general election, which netted Ms. Verhoff perhaps a few hundred votes. The second, and more important, endorsement was that of incoming mayor, Peyton Jamison, who right now is an immensely popular politician in Milton. (Caution: With such popularity comes high expectations for Mr. Jamison. Delivering on these expectations will be a challenge and require significant expenditure of Mr. Jamison’s accumulated political capital.)
Tucker’s Links to Lusk, Kunz, and Mega-developers. In the run-up to the run-off, Ms. Tucker’s ties to the Lusk-Kunz faction (and certain associated developers) came into sharp focus. After Ms. Tucker’s first place finish and sensing a certain victory (and perhaps wanting to take credit for it), these political operators became quite public in their support for Ms. Tucker . . . a kiss of death in my opinion. Quite frankly, Miltonites are fed up with the factional politics (Moore-Bentley vs. Lusk-Kunz) and are looking to make a clean break with the past. In Ms. Verhoff, they perceived (hopefully they are correct) an alternative to Milton’s long-warring factions. I suspect that none of the District 1 candidates were wise to Milton’s past politics, and Ms. Verhoff was fortunate to not have a date to Milton’s political dance, enabling her to strike a stance of independence. However, it seems Paul Moore, needing a lifeline now that Laura Bentley is rolling off council, is now sidling up to Ms. Verhoff; she would be wise not to attend to his advances. (I suspect Mr. Moore will be a casualty in the 2023 elections, unless he decides it is in his best interest to step aside “to spend more time with his family.”)
Character Issues. In the run-off, questions about Ms. Tucker’s character were raised that damaged Ms. Tucker’s candidacy. A website, therealjamitucker.com, was created (and thankfully has now been taken down) that provided screenshots from Google searches about Ms. Tucker. While some (not all) of the assembled information (if true) was troubling to me, most of the information did not meet my standards for inclusion at the blog because it lacked context, related to non-local issues, or was partisan. And some of the provided information was just plain out-of-bounds (and probably counter-productive), particularly questions about Ms. Tucker’s military service. (Clearly Ms. Tucker is a veteran, although I was baffled by her vagueness in describing her service.) The only issue I felt worthy of mention at the blog was Ms. Tucker’s views on 5G, which are not supported by the fundamental concepts of physics. I do not believe that Ms. Verhoff was behind the Real Jami Tucker website, but rather it was the creation of progressive activists in Milton—ironically, some of whom were previously closely aligned with Bill Lusk and Matt Kunz.
Partisanship. Republican-Right-Conservative Vs. Democrat-Left-Progressive distinctions were an important factor in the election. This is unfortunate as partisan politics do not translate at the local level. The predominant issue in Milton is land use and on this issue, citizens across the political spectrum are closely aligned. Democrat, Republican, and Independent Miltonites are united in their desire for low intensity development, preserving Milton’s rural heritage, conserving greenspace, and most importantly strict adherence to Milton’s zoning laws. Accordingly, partisan appeals are a dangerous distraction . . . and frankly, a way for Milton’s Mega-developers to change the conversation. Partisan appeals provide cover for Council Members misbehavior in zoning matters. In 2019, needing to draw attention away from his advocacy of a music venue at Birmingham Crossroads, Paul Moore resorted to this tactic in securing Republican establishment endorsements—a significant factor in his victory. In 2021, partisan appeals were again made (but this time backfired). Understanding that Milton is deeply red, the Tucker campaign made a partisan pitch to Conservatives. This pitch energized Progressives, who overwhelmingly supported Ms. Verhoff . . . much of this support based on Ms. Tucker’s stance on partisan state/national issues with little relevance to local politics. However, the partisan pitch did not resonate with a big chunk of more discerning Conservatives (and some more discerning Progressives) that rightfully focused on issues of land-use (and good governance). So although it seems that a majority of Milton’s citizens likely voted based on partisanship, a discerning plurality (that focused on smart land use, not partisanship) swung the election decidedly in Ms. Verhoff’s direction.
Election Expertise. Ms. Verhoff benefited from election consultants that engaged her after the general election and provided invaluable advice and assistance. Conversely, Ms. Tucker cast her lot with political meddlers that fancy themselves to be political savants; they are clever by half. Their playbook is Ron Wallace’s Power of the Campaign Pyramid: Hope is Not a Strategy. I bought Mr. Wallace’s book in 2017 and read enough of it to realize that Laura Bentley could easily thwart Bill Lusk’s re-election if Team Lusk followed Mr. Wallace’s playbook. And in fact, our 2017 campaign resulted in the biggest blow-out in Milton politics, with Laura Bentley garnering 71+% of the vote against an entrenched incumbent that had served on Council since the City’s founding. And it seems a modified version of the Campaign Pyramid playbook was followed by Ms. Tucker’s campaign, with predictable (and losing) results. Just a handful of people in Milton truly know how to win elections and fortunately Ms. Verhoff tapped into a few of these people; Ms. Tucker did not.
Obviously, with 63% of the vote, Ms. Verhoff’s victory was decisive. However, was it a mandate? And if so, a mandate for what? I would contend that Ms. Verhoff’s win was not a mandate (for anything) because it was achieved on a shaky foundation (and her platform was too vague and feel-good). Most Verhoff votes were more anti-Tucker than pro-Verhoff. Clearly, Adam D’Anella was the first choice of 1) Milton’s minority of progressives and 2) the Moore-Bentley-Cookerly faction . . . interesting because Moore got the endorsement of the Republican establishment in 2019 and Cookerly has hosted Republican events at her home. Both progressives and Moore-Bentley-Cookerly supporters swung to Ms. Verhoff when it became obvious that Ms. Tucker 1) was a favorite of many on the far right end of the political spectrum and 2) was backed by Lusk and Kunz. However, there is a more important Verhoff segment of voters (that span the political spectrum) that voted for Verhoff because Ms. Tucker seemed aligned with Milton’s Mega-developers. These voters are more hopeful about Ms. Verhoff than confident in her, given her failure to provide any substantive policy specifics. These same voters are also tired of factional politics. This is all to say that Ms. Verhoff needs to reassure her voters, particularly those concerned about development and factionalism, that she is going to 1) push for strict adherence to Milton’s zoning laws and 2) be an independent voice for citizens (not Council factions or their Special Interests). Bucolic bromides about smart land use won’t pass muster with Milton’s more discerning voters who crave precise policy prescriptions . . . and who ultimately provide the winning margin in Milton’s elections.
As for Ms. Tucker, I hope that she stays engaged in Milton’s politics, as she has promised. The community benefits from viewpoint diversity and from spirited debate. However, to be effective as a community advocate, Ms. Tucker will need to put distance between herself and the Lusk-Kunz faction. And she will need to maintain a laser-like focus on smart land use and good governance. And lastly she must assiduously avoid appeals to partisanship and steer far clear of state and national issues that lack relevance to local government. Milton’s government is rich in opportunities—some quite obvious—for improvement, so Ms. Tucker should have no problem finding issues ripe for advocacy.
My wishes for both Ms. Tucker and Ms. Verhoff are wisdom and fortitude in their future political ventures.
Advocating For Good Governance,