Situated right next to each other, Clarke County and Oconee County are polar opposites when it comes to voting.
Typically, Oconee votes Republican, while Clarke votes Democrat. Athens Mayor Nancy Denson compares Clarke County to a breakfast treat.
“Athens is like the blue donut, or the blue donut hole surrounded by red counties, and of course, Oconee’s probably one of the reddest,” Denson said.
Denson said she’s noticed a huge change in the political climate in Clarke County since her first election in 1979 when she won the race for City Council and became the first woman ever in Clarke County to get elected to office.
“I don’t see it as Democrat-Republican, but a lot of voters do,” Denson said. “I mean, the Democrat-Republican identifications have become so polarized.”
In 2011, when Denson first ran for mayor, she felt running as a Democrat was a big deal.
“The first time there were five candidates, and it was ‘Who’s the best Democrat? Who’s the real Democrat?'” Denson said. “And then by the time I ran for it the second time, the divisions were even greater.”
Denson said once she had a seat in the government, she didn’t think about the parties at all.
“After I was in office, I never knew whether anyone was a Republican or a Democrat when they came in and needed help,” Denson said. “I just helped a citizen. I don’t know if people think that way very much anymore.”
John Daniell, the chairman of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, said while the two parties are divided on a national level, they probably have more things in common than they realize at the local level.
“Where the real division starts is at the national politic level,” Daniell said. “Like when you’re running for the state house or state senate, or when you’re talking about expanding Medicaid, you kind of get into the big picture stuff.”
Daniell has run for election in Oconee four times, and he believes reaching out and communicating your vision to voters is more important than your political party.
“When you talk about your local roads, your zoning procedures, how you want the county to look, that’s a pretty common thread between all parties,” Daniell said.
Ross Crowell is a senior majoring in journalism.