story by Scott F. Davis, special to The City Wire
The Republican Party is poised to make gains in Washington County during the 2012 election thanks to the retirement of two long-time Democratic office holders and good candidate recruitment.
Democrats fielded challengers to GOP incumbents in the Collector and Assessor’s office.
In 2010, the GOP recruited only one challenger against Democratic county officials, but still managed to double the number of GOP full-time elected officials from one to two. GOP challenger Jeff Williams defeated Assessor Leeann Kizzar and Collector David Ruff, a Republican, was unopposed.
All the other Democratic full-time elected county officials were unopposed in 2010. Williams win over Kizzar surprised many local pundits, even though it followed a national trend during a very bad year for incumbent Democrats. This year the GOP has fielded candidates for all county-wide offices except two, leaving Democrats Sheriff Tim Helder and County Judge Marilyn Edwards unopposed.
This year the GOP has fielded three more challengers for a total of five candidates for county-wide offices, leaving Democrats Sheriff Tim Helder, County Judge Marilyn Edwards and Coroner Roger Morris unopposed.
The GOP had challengers willing to run against both Helder and Edwards, but decided not to accept them as candidates because they appeared unqualified, said Jim Reavis, chairman of the Republican Party of Washington County. Reavis said the GOP also had a candidate for coroner, but he withdrew this week after accepting a better employment opportunity. He would not name the prospective candidates.
The GOP’s success did not come by accident. They have been selective in picking challengers, he said. It’s also a matter of deciding the best use of available campaign funds. Campaigns against incumbents with good name recognition, like Helder and Edwards, are expensive and come with no guarantee of success, he explained.
“We’ve been vetting and recruiting candidates for two years. We’re trying to make sure that everyone who applies for a job is qualified for that position,” said Reavis. “It’s been a big ordeal making sure we have qualified candidates.”
The county’s GOP candidates have participated in campaign school training sessions conducted by experts as part of a state-wide effort to teach GOP candidates how to run successful campaigns, Reavis said.
The Democrats have also been busy recruiting and vetting candidates to make sure they are qualified, said Tyler Clark, chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee. He said they are excited about their candidates and expect two more candidates to file Thursday, one for Assessor and the other for collector, Clark said. The filing deadline began Feb. 23 and runs until noon on Thursday, March 1.
“Our slate of officers is going to be superb,” Clark said.
County Clerk Karen Pritchard, a long-time Democratic official, is retiring this year. She has endorsed Rebecca Lewallen, a deputy county clerk for the past 10 years, who is running as a Republican. Lewallen handles absentee ballots for the clerk’s office and helps with elections, she said.
Lewallen of Elkins said the clerk’s office “has always run smoothly” and she expects “a seamless transition” under her leadership. She said that she will continue to take a bi-partisan approach in helping the public as county clerk.
Democratic candidate Ann Upton of West Fork, who works in Washington County’s computer department, is challenging Lewallen. She has worked for the county for a total of 12 years and is the great niece of former Sheriff Kenneth McKee, she said.
Upton said she would bring “fresh ideas and positive solutions” to the clerk’s office and would take steps to enhance the office’s computer system and make its website more user friendly, she said.
“It’s a good office. I think I could add to it,” she said.
Circuit Clerk Bette Stamps, another long-time Democratic officeholder, is retiring. She endorsed Mona Piazza, a deputy circuit clerk for the past five years, as a Democratic candidate for the office. Piazza serves as computer administrator.
Kyle Sylvester, the GOP candidate for circuit clerk, is a police officer for the City of Johnson.
Sylvester said his goals include making the office more efficient and friendly, makes the best use of current technology to offer all non-confidential records easily accessible on-line and be a good public steward.
Piazza said her experience sets her apart and that she’s got the support of an experience staff to ensure a smooth transition. She said the office is already in the process of converting to a new mandatory state-wide computer system that will make court records available for free online. The current system allows access through a paid system, she explained.
Treasurer Roger Haney, a Springdale Democrat who was elected in 1998, has never faced opposition until this year. Haney previously served as county administrator under the County Judge Charles Johnson.
Haney said he was surprised to draw opposition and that plans to run a positive campaign. He enjoys good working relationships with all of the justices of the peace. He said he did not know his opponent.
Russell Hill of Springdale, an account manager for a Lowell-based trucking company and former pastor, is challenging Haney.
Hill said that the idea of serving the public and the county appeals to him. As treasurer, he would offer a “new set of eyes” and “a different leadership style.”
Dan Cypert, who has work experience in the Washington County Assessor’s office, is challenging Williams, who is in his first term as assessor. Greg Bradford is challenging Ruff for collector.
4th Judicial District races
Two non-partisan judicial races are underway this year in the 4th Judicial District, which includes Washington and Madison Counties.
The three candidates seeking the Division Four seat vacated the resignation of Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn include Bob Lambert, Christi Beaumont and Amy Estes Turner. Brenda Austin is challenging Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay for re-election of his Division Six seat.
Prosecuting Attorney John Threet, a Democrat, is unopposed for re-election in the 4th Judicial District.
Jeff William (R), Seeking re-election
Dan Cypert (D)
Mona Piazza (D)
Kyle Sylvester (R)
David Ruff (R)
Greg Bradford (D)
Roger Morris (D)
Becky Lewallen (R)
Ann Upton (D)
Judge Marilyn Edwards (D)
Tim Helder (D)
Treasurer Roger Haney (D)
Russell Hill (R)