Moderates appear to have solidified their hold on the Ashland City Council and ousted the last liberal councilor, according to initial results Tuesday night from Jackson County Elections.
Ashland City Councilor Carol Voisin, a self-identified progressive who often held minority positions in council votes, was trailing behind challenger Jackie Agee, who said she tries to find the middle ground on issues.
Voisin had 49 percent, or 3,898 votes, to Agee's 50.7 percent, or 4,031 votes, according to results released at 10:24 p.m.
With 67.1 percent, or 5,227 votes, Councilor Greg Lemhouse was handily defeating homeless community organizer Keith Haxton, who had 32.7 percent, or 2,547 votes.
In a three-way race to replace outgoing moderate Councilor Russ Silbiger, who did not seek reelection, Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner Rich Rosenthal had 43.4 percent, or 3,372 votes, to Ashland Homelessness Steering Committee and Ashland Housing Commission member Regina Ayars' 38.4 percent, or 2,982 votes. Attorney Bruce Harrell, who didn't use signs or advertising, garnered nearly 18 percent, or 1,396 votes in that race.
If those results hold up, Agee and Rosenthal will join fellow moderate councilors Lemhouse, Dennis Slattery and Mike Morris on the six-member council.
Councilor David Chapman, another moderate, resigned in October. Sitting councilors will appoint his replacement in December.
New councilors take office in January 2013.
Agee said while the nation may be polarized politically, the early Ashland election results show that local residents want to elect people who seek common ground on issues.
"It is that middle ground that is so missing in the national spectrum," she said. "Being in the middle means I can hear both sides. I'll be on the left on some issues and on the right on others. I'm uncomfortable with labels. It creates problems in our country."
Voisin could not be reached immediately for comment.
The races for Ashland City Council seats generated controversy after the Ashland Citizens for a Great City Council Political Action Committee — which advocates for what it calls pragmatic, moderate candidates — opposed Voisin, Ayars and Haxton.
Some believe the PAC, which went by the name League of Ashland Voters in past years, played a role in ousting liberal councilors Cate Hartzell and Eric Navickas in prior elections.
Rosenthal, who was winning in early election returns, said he noticed a high number of under-votes in his race. More than 1,600 Ashland voters did not make a choice in that contest. There were similar numbers of under-votes for the other council races.
"The under-vote is high, which suggests the PAC may have turned people off," Rosenthal said in an email.
Voters can choose not to vote in a particular race for a variety of reasons, including lack of familiarity with the candidates.
Lemhouse, who had the strongest lead on Tuesday night over an opponent in his bid to retain his council seat against challenger Haxton, said the early results looked promising.
"It's always rewarding to run a campaign," Lemhouse said. "I appreciate Keith for stepping forward and putting his views out there for people to consider."
Haxton and Ayars could not be immediately reached for comment.
Harrell said while he trailed in the three-way race against Rosenthal and Ayars, he was gratified to get as many votes as he did since he used no signs or advertising.
"I ran a campaign solely based on positions — not ads, signs or endorsements," Harrell said.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.