Orange County Commissioners Are Elected in the Primary

A Republican has never been elected County Commissioner in Orange County history. This is likely to remain true for years to come.

A strong majority of county voters are registered as Democrats and a majority of voters are unaware of who their commissioners are and what they do. When the general election rolls around in the fall, there are way more voters than participated in the primary and they are mainly attracted to the big name contests. After they vote for President, Governor, and higher profile legislative candidates, an overwhelming number of voters simply vote the straight party ticket. 

Any of the candidates who won the spring Democratic primaries could have died or run naked down Main Street in Hillsborough a week before the election and still been elected in the general election. The winning candidates invariably crow about their large support as evidenced by the general election votes, but they know better. 

There have been two primaries since the County Commissioners altered the election process by creating the current unsatisfying system which has some district seats as well as maintaining some at-large seats. A look at the numbers will reveal just how few citizens actually choose our county leaders.

In 2008, Steve Yuhasz won the District 2 primary with a grand total of 1489 votes out of 2673 total votes cast for this office. That is not a misprint. During this primary, there were 77,061 total county voters. The end result was that 2% of county voters chose our county commissioner.

In 2010, Earl McKee won the District 2 primary with 2733 votes out of a total of 5379. There were slightly more than 100,000 registered voters that year, so about 2.7% of county voters selected Commissioner McKee for us.

People can’t be forced to pay attention to local county issues and the commissioners, so we are not likely to achieve numbers of knowledgeable voters commensurate with big federal and state elections. However, it would be a tremendous improvement to remove party affiliation from the county races. Then the voting would at least be done by those who are paying attention and the results would not be clouded by the many thousands of straight-ticket votes cast in ignorance. And we would only need one election, thus saving money.

The 1/4 Cent Sales Tax

When Orange County created its Economic Development Districts in the early 1990’s, the purpose was to designate non-residential zones that would serve “for the next fifty years.” The districts were created along interstate highways to benefit from obvious transportation advantages. Orange County, with its support for quality education and environmental awareness, provides a great place for employers and employees to live and work. However, nearly twenty years later, virtually no activity has occurred in the Economic Development Districts.

Therefore, the Board of Commissioners has recently begun to modify policies to better support business growth – both new and existing – in the county. We have adopted a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and are in the process of amending regulations to make Orange County more competitive. We’ve revised Land Use designations. We’ve zoned property for business use and we’ve provided incentives to support expansion of an existing business.

The primary reason for the lack of activity, however, has been the lack of necessary infrastructure – water and sewer – that companies require for any site to make the first cut as a viable location. Investment now in water and sewer lines in the Economic Development Districts will make us competitive in the global business market, and will pay dividends in new taxable property, new sales tax revenue, and most importantly, in new opportunities to work and shop in Orange County.

We have the will, and with the approval by the voters of the ¼-cent local sales tax, we will have the means. Please come out to vote on November 8, and please vote “FOR” the ¼-cent tax.

Steve F. Yuhasz
Vice-Chair, Orange County Board of Commissioners