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With Election Day more than six months away, an old matchup and a new rivalry already are dominating the James City County Board of Supervisors’ races.
Supervisor Michael Hipple, who is running as an Independent in the Powhatan district is in the fight of his political life after losing the county GOP party support. He will be running against new party favorite Republican Joe Swanenburg.
Meanwhile former supervisor Democrat Jim Icenhour is attempting a comeback for the seat he narrowly lost in 2013 to board chairman Republican Kevin Onizuk for the Jamestown district.
With the March 30 soft deadline expired for primary candidates to file, both races represent early rumblings with local politics in an election season barely underway.
However in an era where the Republican party nationally is grappling with its identity, the Powhatan district race is shaping up as an ideological litmus test for the James City County Republican Committee with its party support for newcomer Swanenburg.
Lifelong Republicans, such as Hipple, are leaving or being ousted from the county parties. Hipple said he was kicked out not because he disagreed with GOP philosophy, because a few people disagreed with his policies.
“I’m a Republican. I’m always going to be a Republican.,” Hipple said in January.
Coming into the mix are candidates such as Swanenberg, a general contractor with an active presence at Supervisor meetings, who is favored by some county Republican Committee members.
During an April 28, 2015 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Swanenburg spoke out passionately against a propoased 9-percent tax increase before the Supervisors’ vote. The proposal passed and Hipple was among those on the board who supported it.
“The board, you, will vote on, whatever you, the board, want to vote on, regardless of public input,” Swanenburg said. “Your idea from public input from the very start of this budget process has been sit down, shut up, and we’ll tell you what to think.”
Swanenburg has advocated numerous times to county officials for lower taxes and better public access to county finances.
Hipple previously said he would run with or without support from the James City County Republican Committee, according to past WYDaily coverage.
“I told them from day one, I am not one of your foot soldiers,” Hipple said. “I have a mind, I have an opinion.”
In the Jamestown district, Icenhour, a former two-term supervisor and retired Air Force fighter pilot, is looking to reclaim the seat he lost in 2013 by 30 votes to another newcomer candidate, Onizuk.
Icenhour had represented the Powhatan district for many years until 2011, when he was redistricted out of the seat. Judges from the 9th Judicial District appointed former supervisor Andy Bradshaw to the position temporarily. In 2013 Hipple won the new Powhatan district nearly 59 percent of the vote, as previously reported WYDaily.
Icenhour ran in a special election in 2012 and won in the new Jamestown district, but later lost when his term ran up in 2013 to Onizuk in a bitterly contested race which led to a vote recount.
“People always run because there’s something that’s been done in the county that they disagree with,” Icenhour said before listing off his concerns about growth in the county, taxes, and school division funding.
“What’s happened since my first election in 2005 is that local elections have become much, much more partisan,” he said.
It’s not clear if Onizuk, who did not return a request for comment, is running for re-election.
Republican Committee Chairman Chris Henderson did not return calls seeking comment. Swanenburg, who declined to comment on the record, said he would announce his official candidacy at a later date.
Hipple said the focus on the board the past four years has been to bring people together from all walks of life, from new residents and business owners to his fellow board members. He added he is running because he loves the work and believes he can make a difference.
“I run from daylight to dusk. And try to balance my family, my business, and the county. I try to make sure that I don’t put too much in one place,” Hipple said. “The only thing we have in life is our time. I do not want to spend my time and waste it, because that’s all I got.”
Hipple said he would rather accomplish something, adding it would be a shame if partisanship came to divide the board.
Hipple, Swanenburg, and Icenhour are the only candidates so far to file the necessary paperwork with county elections officials to run for Supervisor, according to James City County General Registrar Dianna Moorman.
The James City County Board of Supervisors serve in four-year staggered terms. The 2017 election has two seats open out of a five total seats. In 2019, the Berkeley, Roberts and Stonehouse district seats will be up for grabs.
The final filing deadline for all candidates who seek to run for the Board of Supervisors is June 13.
Andrew Harris contributed reporting to this story.