For clues as to why Republicans did well in last week’s elections, go no further than Nassau County, New York. Republicans appear (pending a final vote count) to have captured total control of county government for the first time in a decade. Home of the famous post-World War II “Levittown” suburb, Nassau today has 1.35 million people and is the 10th wealthiest county in the U.S.
It also suffers from horrific property taxes, brought about by decades of misrule by a Republican patronage machine and the inability of Tom Suozzi, the current Democratic County Executive who toppled that GOP machine, to solve the problem.
Mr. Suozzi has a reputation as a reformer and legitimately notes that two-thirds of local property taxes go to public schools that he has no control over. But public anger against him nevertheless continued to build over the tax issue, exacerbated by outrage over a new 2.5% sales tax on home heating oil.
In last week’s election, Nassau Republicans, having reinvented themselves as once again the party of lower taxes, won control of the county legislature. Ed Mangano, their candidate for County Executive, has a 497-vote lead over Mr. Suozzi with several thousand absentee ballots left to count.
The key to the stunning GOP comeback lay in voter turnout and anti-tax enthusiasm. Turnout in Republicans areas of the county averaged 32% of registered voters, a full ten points above Democratic strongholds. Should Mr. Mangano win, his entire victory margin may well have come from the votes he won as the candidate of the local Tax Revolt Party, which was allowed to “cross endorse” him and other anti-tax candidates.
Combined with the New Jersey governor’s race and the victory of Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for County Executive in New York’s Westchester County, Republicans in the Northeast appear to be making a significant and unexpected comeback on the local level. How far that comeback goes will likely depend on whether the GOP can deliver on its pledges to tackle bloated local governments that fueled the region’s sky-high property taxes.
‘John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’