by Dick Hall-Sizemore
It has long been evident that Henrico County has been changing, both demographically and politically. The results of this week’s elections were the culmination of that long-term trend.
The county has a history of continuity in its Board of Supervisors membership with members serving for many years. This year, two long-serving board members, Patricia O’Bannon and Frank Thornton, both of whom will complete 28 years on the board this year, announced their retirements. (Thornton was the first Black elected to the board.)
The partisan breakdown of the board has been three Republicans and two Democrats for many years, except for a brief interlude in 2018 when a Democrat was elected in a special election following the death of a long-serving Republican. She resigned from the board seven months later after getting into a nasty squabble with other board members, including her fellow Democrats, who said she was not playing by their internal rules. A Republican won in the ensuing special election.
In this year’s race for O’Bannon’s seat in the Tuckahoe District, Democrat Jody Rogish, an IT consultant, beat Republican Greg Baka, whom O’Bannon had appointed to the County Planning Commission and had endorsed for the Board of Supervisors. The district has long consisted of middle- to upper-middle-class families. Rogish won 51 percent of the votes.
The upset of the night was in the Three Chopt District, where residential and commercial growth has exploded in recent years in the Short Pump area. Republican Dave Kaechle represented the district for 36 years. After his retirement in 2015, Republican Thomas Branin had represented the area until he was beaten by 261 votes by Democrat Misty Whitehead, a little-known attorney.
It is not as if these two Democrats were funded by some nefarious progressive billionaire. According to the latest Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) report, Baka, the Republican spent about double what Rogish, the Democrat, spent–$152,906 vs. $75,030. In the Three Chopt district, Branin, the incumbent Republican, spent an astounding $236,405 compared to Democrat Whitehead’s expenditure of a paltry $15,364. That is more than 15 times as much as his opponent.
When the new board takes office in January, Democrats will hold four of the five seats. Furthermore, three of the Supervisors will be brand new. Both situations will be new for Henrico. The county’s board has generally been low-key and largely nonpartisan. For example, the chairmanship of the board has traditionally rotated among the members, with even the members from the party in the minority serving a term as chair. It remains to be seen if the newcomers will continue this mode of operating.
Meanwhile, across the river in that long-time bastion of Republican conservatism, Chesterfield County, Democrats have won a majority of the seats on its Board of Supervisors, as well.
Bob Dylan was right: “The times, they are a-changing.”