Almost exactly 20 years ago today, I began my column this way:
Like many of you, I'm sitting here with my mouth hanging open, trying to figure out Tuesday's election results.
I have proven time and again that I don't have a clue when it comes to political predictions, so I'm always amazed when people ask me who will win. Tuesday afternoon, one of my co-workers inexplicably asked me that question, and I told him that Jerry Seyfried would win re-election as Northampton County executive, that Bill Houston and Carol Weaver would be re-elected to Easton City Council, and that Bill Heydt would be elected Allentown mayor.
In my defense, I added the proviso that I am always wrong. I may be dumb, but I'm not cocky.
No one asked me Tuesday who would win anything, but I can tell you that I'd have been horribly wrong again.
Of course John Callahan would beat John Brown for county executive. Of course Democrats Jerry Seyfried and Ron Heckman would win seats on County Council.
Name recognition matters. Right? Bigger campaign war chests prevail. Right? People are ticked off at the Republicans. Right? They hate the tea party. Right?
Bangor Mayor Brown beat Callahan easily. Republicans — several of them with tea party roots or political orientations — swept the five available County Council seats and won all the contested elections on the Lehigh County commissioners.
Outside of the cities, Republicans cleaned up in all but one of the major races. Even the exception, Tom Muller's minor upset of Scott Ott for Lehigh County executive, comes with the proviso that Democrat Muller is a converted Republican, making him a more palatable choice for GOP voters who weren't ready to roll the dice with a guy with almost no management experience and a radical vision.
By re-electing Ott-backers Tom Creighton and Mike Schware to the commissioners, Lehigh voters left the 5-4 majority of ultraconservative Republicans in place — the GOP majority is 7-2 overall, but two of those are moderates who sometimes part ways with their fellow party members — and set the stage for some interesting battles next year with an emboldened Muller.
That 1993 election had more in common with this one than just the fact that I was clueless. Ken Smith was re-elected Bethlehem mayor, and Jane Baker won as Lehigh County executive, completing a GOP sweep of the biggest races. Republican Heydt won the Allentown mayoral election, the only one I got right.
The one difference was that voters picked through the County Council ballot that year and elected four Democrats along with Republican Peg Ferraro, who was the top vote-getter in winning again Tuesday.
When you break the numbers down, it's easier to understand what happened Tuesday. With few races to bring largely Democratic Bethlehem and Easton voters out in even respectable numbers — and little help from the county's ineffectual Democratic leadership — Republican voters in the suburbs became more significant, and they weren't splitting their tickets.
Callahan won Bethlehem by fewer than 150 votes, way too small a margin to counter his weakness elsewhere. The other Democrats had the same problem.
As a practical matter, I don't expect to see things change much in either county. Incumbent Northampton Executive John Stoffa was a nominal Democrat at best, and although the names will change, council will start next year with the same 5-4 Republican majority it has now. The two county executive candidates seemed to agree on most issues, including the need for long-range planning and much stronger leadership.
Lehigh County will be in the same situation it was before. As administration director, Muller has been the architect of the county's recent budgets. The size of the structural deficit and the shrinking reserve fund seemed to make another tax increase inevitable over the next couple of years, whoever was in charge.
I was secretly relishing the prospect of County Executive Ott's announcing in a couple of years that he had no choice but to raise taxes. At least this election spared him that indignity.
I asked Muhlenberg College political science professor Christopher Borick whether he had expected the government shutdown fiasco to affect this election. "It's hard to translate that," he said. "You look for people who might be identified as tea party, and the closest we had locally was Scott Ott, and he did lose."
"How did that translate into some of those other races? That gets a little mushy."
Before anyone gets too excited about the Republicans seizing control of Northampton County politics, it's worth mentioning that four years after Bill Brackbill shocked Jerry Seyfried in 1993, Democrats swept every available county and city office in a thunderous comeback. Control of County Council has seesawed ever since.
So let's just say this: At least in county politics, 2013 was a good year to be a Republican.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.