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Political polarization evident in breakdown of St. Louis County's Prop A victory

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 8, 2010 - Chesterfield Mayor John Nations is winning deserved kudos for his leadership of the successful campaign to pass Proposition A, but St. Louis County's township breakdown shows that voters in his own backyard narrowly rejected the sales tax hike for Metro, the region's transit system.

Countywide, 62.4 percent of the voters backed Proposition A. But that overall result masks the county's political polarization over the issue. The opposition was all concentrated in west county and a pocket in south county. But in near central county and north county, the support was huge -- both in terms of the percentage of victory and, in central county, turnout.

The township breakdowns released Thursday by the county Election Board (but not yet available on the county's website) show that Prop A's strongest support, by far, was in the central and north parts of the county. The central townships also saw the largest voter turnouts.

Such support swamped the opposition, who did make up the majority of voters in parts of far west and south county.

Nations' Chesterfield Township, for example, was among five of the county's 28 townships where a majority of voters opposed Proposition A: three in west county (Chesterfield, Wild Horse and Lafayette) and two in south county (Tesson Ferry and Oakville).

Oakville registered the county's highest percentage of opposition -- 60.8 percent.

Such opposition made little dent in Prop A's chances, in part, because all but one of those five townships saw turnout below the county's overall 22.2 percent; Oakville's, for example, was only 18.48 percent.

Turnout wasn't great in most north county townships, either. In Norwood, for example, only 14.15 showed up at the polls. But those who did show up overwhelmingly backed Prop A, by a percentage of 84.22 percent.

Such huge pro-Prop A margins were seen throughout the county's north and close-in townships, where low-income residents particularly depend on public transit and where much of the county's MetroLink rail lines run. Those large pro-Prop A percentages helped beef up Prop A's overall county showing.

Meanwhile, the county's highest voter turnouts were in the close-in central townships of Clayton (34.68 percent), Hadley (33.47 percent), Jefferson (37.77 percent), and Bonhomme (26.73 percent).

All four also saw pro-Prop A percentages well above the county's overall average. Jefferson's support of Prop A., for example, was 69.25 percent.

In several cases, Prop A may have been helped by unrelated ballot issues -- notably, mayoral contests and school-district tax or bond proposals -- that also drew voters to the polls. Jefferson Township, which saw the county's highest percentage turnout, includes much of the city of Webster Groves, which saw a spirited campaign over two school-tax issues.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.