FORT MILL TOWNSHIP -- Could the political center of the county be shifting to Fort Mill?
With more township residents running for countywide and state offices than at any other time in recent memory, it could be. Or, it could simply be a reaction to the growing pains the township is feeling. "I don't think it's shifting. York has always been the county seat and will always be important," said Pete Skidmore Sr., a candidate for county coroner from Fort Mill. "I think, myself included, if the people that get in the office don't do a good job, we'll continue to see people standing up saying, 'I can do a better job.' "
"It could just be a fluke," York County Registrations and Elections Director Wanda Hemphill said. "But, overall, we see a lot of people coming out in areas that they didn't used to. This is the most opposition on a primary ballot since Home Rule was on the ballot in the '70s."
It's not just Fort Mill. More people are running in areas across York County. For example, 19 people filed to run for a total of seven county council seats. Only Rick Lee in District 7 does not face a primary challenger.
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For coroner, Skidmore will face former Coroner Jim Chapman in a primary. The winner will take on Interim Coroner Sabrina Gast, also a Fort Mill resident. Gast said she wants to keep the job because she has enjoyed doing it and hopes to continue improving the office's "professionalism." She hadn't thought much about why so many township residents are seeking office this time around.
"I'd venture to say it's because of the increased population," Gast said. "Though most of the people running are longtime residents."
House District 45 Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Indian Land) thinks the growth rate in Indian Land and Fort Mill is the driving factor.
"Not only are there more people, but the folks who are coming in are politically active, and the growth in the area is making it clear to folks how important the political process is," Mulvaney wrote in an e-mail to the Fort Mill Times. "I like to think that my victory last year also sent the message that it doesn't matter where you live, what matters is how hard you are willing to work, and what you stand for."
"I can't speak for anyone else. I just know why I'm running," said Kyle Boyd of Fort Mill, a State House District 48 candidate. "The person in District 48, in my opinion, has not been upholding conservative values in the State House, that's what got me fired up."
York County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Watkins said he has noticed the trend, and attributes it to a reaction to the township's growth.
"I think it's a sense of wanting to get ahead of the curve on public policy and government decisions that impact the future of Fort Mill," Watkins said. "I'm from Atlanta and I've seen what happens when you get behind the curve."
Watkins' counterpart at the county Republican Party, Glenn McCall, agrees that a larger pool of people is driving the increase in attention to local and state government.
What's happening in Fort Mill now may be the beginning of a shift that has occurred elsewhere in the nation, according to UNC-Charlotte Associate Professor of Political Science Eric Heberlig. The suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Virginia are the best example.
"Until recently, they had been Republican, but even in higher income areas like Fairfax, the voters are fed up with Republican tax cuts against mass transit because they want mass transit for their commutes," Heberlig said. "In growing areas they want someone to address current problems, not someone who knows so-and-so's granddaddy."
The influx of people to a rapidly developing area brings more people motivated to get involved in local politics, and many of them won't be familiar with existing power structures, Heberlig added. So when new residents equal or outnumber natives and long time residents, both the newcomers and the established political players essentially have to introduce themselves to the voters again and again.
However, Winthrop University Political Science Professor Scott Huffmon said it's nowhere near time to write off the Republican Party in York County. To the contrary, he said, the influx of people has forced the party to get better organized. Besides, most of the people moving into Fort Mill have been Republican-friendly, educated, wealthy whites.
"Folks in Western York County need to be paying attention," he said. "You will have people duking it out to make the east the power center."
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