Winds of change could be felt across Henry County Tuesday – but they were generated by the ballot box, not towering turbines.
Ed Tarantino defeated incumbent Northern District Commissioner Butch Baker in the primary election by 17 percentage points, an outcome many believed represented a loud and clear statement from residents concerned about talk of wind farms in Henry County.
“No doubt,” Tarantino said as he accepted congratulatory hugs and handshakes after the results were announced. “No doubt about it, this was about the wind farm issue. It’s a shame it took all of this to get the message across. People had been trying to tell them for three years. People in this county don’t want wind turbines.”
Tarantino was just one of several candidates to turn anti-wind into a political win.
“The wind issue beat all of us,” Baker said. “The only county office-holder who got re-elected was Prosecutor Joe Bergacs – and he and his opponent weren’t arguing over wind.”
“We ran together as a team and we all won,” Tarantino said. “None of us that won are politicians. We ran to try and show them that the people of the county don’t want the wind turbines that close to their homes. It’s been a very tough battle to convince anyone of that.”
Two of Tarantino’s most ardent supporters – Jena Morey and Shelia Marion – said they were “beyond thrilled.”
“We feel like it’s a mandate and it shows maybe people haven’t been feeling heard and would like some different leadership,” Morey said.
“For so long we have worked on this and we put together a team of candidates we thought was great,” Marion said. “We finally feel like we have our elected officials’ attention. Finally, our voices have been heard.”
Baker was gracious in defeat, walking over and shaking hands with Tarantino at Primo Restaurant in downtown New Castle, where Republicans gathered to receive the results Tuesday.
“It’s hard to beat a two-time sheriff and commissioner,” Tarantino said. “Butch and I are old friends. We went to church together for many years.”
A look at the numbers reveals an intensity behind the anti-wind movement. There were 5,820 votes cast in the two-person commissioner’s race Tuesday, 1,283 more than in the 2014 primary, when three candidates were running.
Baker said he was not surprised by the results and took his defeat in stride.
“I was told several months ago before the filing that if I didn’t oppose wind turbines, I wouldn’t be re-elected,” he said. “But that’s the people speaking. They have that right.”
Baker explained he was trying to take a middle-of-the-road to the wind turbine issue.
“The anti-wind people wanted the issue killed,” Baker said. “They did not want wind farms at all. I thought there was a happy medium some place – have free enterprise but with a more restrictive wind ordinance to protect people and still allow the possibility for wind turbines in certain areas.”
“Randolph and Madison counties have had wind turbines for years and although there are occasional problems, they’ve been able to work through them, and financially, it’s been a plus for those counties. When you’re sitting on $2.5 million of unspent money that you got from the wind turbines that you can use to improve your county – you know, as a commissioner, you have to look at all sides. And that’s what I was doing,” Baker continued.
As of now, Tarantino has no Democrat opposition for Northern Commissioner in the November general election. Political parties have until June 30 to appoint candidates and fill vacancies on the ballot.
But Morey believes Tarantino is the right person for the job.
“Ed has done so many different things in his life,” she said. “He has varied experiences and he really is a true listener. His mind is always set on problem-solving in a unique way. Because of his diverse experiences, he thinks outside the box.”
As for Baker, he said while a third term would have been nice, “losing this election is somewhat of a win personally.”
“There’s a lot of stress and pressure in this job,” said Baker, who listed revitalization of Memorial Park, planned improvements to the W.G. Smith Building and approval to build a new 4-H facility as highlights of his time as commissioner. “So, I’m going to turn the page and start another chapter.”