Although it was only a primary, North Augustans had an important election Tuesday. The heavily Republican community -- which so far has no opposition party candidates slated to run in the April 27 general election -- re-elected three City Council members.
In the citywide balloting, the three top vote-getters win. They were incumbents Kent Sullivan, Kenneth McDowell and Carolyn Baggott.
There was only one other name on the ballot, political newcomer Henry Dukes. He came up 72 votes short of forcing a runoff against Baggott.
But Dukes' challenge was nonetheless significant because he differed sharply with the incumbents on the highly divisive video poker issue. City policy, which Sullivan, McDowell and Baggott vigorously support, is to fight the poker machines as much as the law (and city coffers) will allow.
Dukes advocated a hands-off approach. Video poker, he argued, is a legal business and should be treated like any other legal business.
But the challenger's sound thrashing at the polls -- only 316 votes -- sends a strong message that North Augusta voters are in no mood to go soft on video poker, for which we commend them.
The poker games are too addictive. Whatever short-term economic benefits they provide are more than offset by the long-term damage in crime, social costs and tumbling property values that result when poker parlors locate near residential areas.
Dukes' other recommendations to improve North Augusta's business climate with tax incentives and low-interest loans did resonate with the other candidates who promptly co-opted it. The incumbents' re-election also marks a strong endorsement of the city's downtown/riverfront redevelopment program.
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