It would be fair to say that John Brown’s 2013 win over John Callahan for Northampton County Executive was both shocking, and a pre-cursor for Donald Trump’s win in the county in 2016. Callahan lead in just about every metric- money raised, money spent, polling, name recognition, and governing experience- but still lost, much like Hillary. Sure, he was running in a tough climate, sure he made some mistakes as a candidate, but it was still rather stunning for Democrats.
It would be fair to say that against the backdrop of those two crushing losses for Democrats, Lamont McClure’s 2017 victory for County Executive should be both viewed as impressive and a God-send for Democrats here. Had he come up short in 2017, one might have had to grapple with the reality that a county that went Democratic in every Presidential race from 1992 through 2012 was moving away from us as Democrats. He not only didn’t come up short, he won big, with coattails. The evidence is convincing- his message took what might have been a close win in the climate we had, and made it a blowout.
John Brown got more votes in 2017 than he did in 2013. Lamont McClure got the most votes in raw votes and percentages that any candidate for County Executive has received this century, a victory unlike any we had seen since the 1980’s, a time when the county was a “blue” bastion of liberal, union dominance. He won big in Nazareth and Upper Nazareth, where the debate over a Gracedale Prison was fiercely fought. He won precincts in Lower Mount Bethel and Bangor, the back yard of John Brown, and where he talked of potential future economic development and open space protection. He won in Palmer Township and Bethlehem Township, where his highlighting of the Brown-Republican Council tax increase of 2015 was crucial. He ran traditional big Democratic margins in Easton and Bethlehem, areas that had been problems in recent past elections. He even pulled in Lower Saucon, a higher income community that seemed to be rebelling against Trump, and Northampton, a more blue-collar community that would have been described in 2016 as Trump Country. There was much debate about the message and direction of his campaign during the election- the results, the only evidence that matters, should put that debate to rest. I spoke to him almost daily during the campaign, I saw the polling, and I had confidence that his campaign plan was right. It turns out that solid polling and commitment to a message actually works. Not only did it work in this case, it pulled the Democrats from a 7-2 minority on the county council to a 6-3 majority. The four new Democrats were elected to work with the new Executive, and to get things done. If they do that, they can win again. If they don’t, they’ll all lose next time.
Yesterday he laid out his agenda for Northampton County over the next four years in a Morning Call Op-Ed. It’s ambitious, but needs to get done. He calls for keeping Gracedale County owned, improving services at the nursing home for seniors, and reviewing the management of the home from top to bottom. He calls for a modern view of the county’s Corrections Department, one that not only keeps the community safe, but also helps remedy the problems that some in our society face. He calls for filling the long-left vacant essential county positions that John Brown didn’t fill to help balance his budget. He calls for restoring morale and treating the work force of the county with dignity. He has spoken of preserving more open space, and being environmentally friendly with our land. He wants to do all of this, and more, while attempting to not raise taxes during the next four years. That will not be easy. It must be the goal of the Democrats who now control the Executive’s office, the Council, the Controller’s Office, and the DA’s office. The goal must be to come together at yes, whenever possible.
I have had the privilege of serving on this transition team, and seeing first hand the important work the county does. The county spends over $1 million a day, and the majority of it is on human services, literally protecting the elderly, the sick, children and families in broken homes, and literally anyone who needs a government. The county protects our open space locally, they administer our justice system at the ground level for those who’s lives hang on the edge of it. If you’re a liberal, this level of government should matter to you, so how we do here is a good barometer of what we are capable of as a party, and as a society. It’s imperative that we succeed here.
I would urge my fellow Democrats in Northampton County to support the new Executive. He is now our representative, and the administrators, department heads, and board and commission members he appoints will carry out the work we supposedly care about as a party. In this Trump-era world, the voters of this county gave us back the opportunity to lead and show we can govern again. How we do with that will go a long way towards determining how we are judged in 2018, 2020, and beyond.