Friday, May 10, 2013

Facts Don't Back Foxboro Casino Backlash Theory

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 10, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

When Foxboro held local elections a couple weeks ago, they voted out an incumbent selectman and incumbent school committee member.  Both were perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being “pro-casino” in the Great Gambling Election of 2012.

So yours truly decided to write about how the “casino effect” is still hovering over Foxboro and influencing local elections.  The plan was to describe how emotions and political alliances formed during the casino war had spilled heavily over into election politics and were affecting the town’s choice of leaders.

But when sitting down to write such a piece, one problem quickly became evident:  The facts do not support such a conclusion, despite appearances to the contrary.

 That does not mean the casino issue has totally gone away, or Foxboro isn’t different in its aftermath.  There have been large scars left by this volatile affair, both on the surface and deep down where they are harder to notice.  It was a nasty, bitter, and personal fight that often found friends and neighbors advocating in opposite directions.

But an objective and quick analysis of Foxboro election history shows that with the exception of the hugely controversial 2012 affair, voters are simply handling their business as usual.  In fact, their turnout at local elections puts many of their neighboring communities to shame.

In 2012 the casino issue drove Foxboro’s voter turnout to an incredible 6200.  Then look at this year and the turnout of 3200 or close to 30 percent, and compare it to the 1800 folks who voted in 2011.  That would lead you to believe the spike in voting is casino-related.

But in 2010 almost 2900 Foxboro voters cast ballots.  In 2009 the vote was over 2600, and it was close to the same in 2008.  Those are turnouts all hovering around the 25 percent mark, which you might initially think is not all that great.

Then you look at turnout percentages in nearby communities like Norton, Mansfield and North Attleboro where the average has been closer to ten percent in recent years.  Suddenly Foxboro’s numbers don’t look that bad.  In fact, they look pretty good.

There are lots of reasons why, starting with the fact there have been races for most key offices each year.  Strongly contested races generate turnout, while a lack of candidates usually translates directly into a lack of interest among voters.  Foxboro is fortunate to have had interesting and strong candidates for their elected positions.

Additionally, Foxboro has some unique and interesting issues for voters to help decide.  Most communities don’t find themselves dealing regularly with one of the most successful sports franchises in the country, complete with all the complications, advantages and problems attached.  Citizens tend to be a tad more selective in choosing who they send to perform such tasks.

Also, Foxboro citizens are more involved in local government these days than most of their neighbors.  Civic pride is not just a catchphrase to them.  The self-proclaimed “Gem of Norfolk County” has a bit of a well-deserved attitude.  Voters there do more than talk the talk – the walk into the polls and vote.  And that is to their everlasting credit.

Watching the politics of Foxboro over the last five years or so is a fascinating study.  There was a move towards more of an “outsider” group on the board of selectmen for a while, and the balance of power in town swung to them.  Then the “townie” faction seemed to stage a mini-revolution, and in a bloodless coup restored their control.  The candidates who lost this year were no doubt affected by the casino aftermath, but not as much as some would portray.

Through it all, Foxboro voters have expressed themselves and then often changed their minds.  Things got a little confusing with the casino, because “listening” became the big issue.  Some wanted to listen to the casino people, learn the facts and let the voters decide.  Others demanded town officials listen only to them.  Selectmen were rewarded or punished for listening – or not listening.  Hey, nobody said politics had to make sense.

So does the casino issue still have lingering effects in Foxboro?  Sure, but not as much as people might initially believe - especially those pesky newspaper columnists.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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