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Republicans have night of success

FormerFayette County Republican Party Chair Sam Harvey speaks to the party faithful Tuesday as he announces the vote totals at party headquarters.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

No blue wave came to Fayette County or Indiana but the Democratic Party did have a few bright spots in Tuesday’s election.

Local Democrats maintained the sheriff’s and surveyor’s offices and picked up a seat on the county commissioners.

But Republicans picked up a seat on county council and the county clerk’s office.

Nearly 49 percent of the 15,588 registered voters cast ballots, 7,632 total. That is down from the 55 percent who voted in the 2016 presidential election but considerably higher than the 33.7 percent in the 2014 midterm election. Thirty-eight percent of those casting ballots did so early.

When past County Republican Chair Sam Harvey announced the vote after 19 precincts, the margins widened.

“People talk about blue waves and red waves, this is a red tsunami here,” he said.

When the final vote came, Democrat Dale Strong had defeated independent Mark O. Pflum, with 58 percent of the vote for Fayette County Commissioner, Dist. 1.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have anyone run here but Dale is a fiscal conservative and will go along with the other two on there and they will work well together,” Harvey said.

Republican Jeff Coleman will replace outgoing Assessor Kathy Rhodes with 69 percent of the vote over his Democratic challenger Caleb Robertson.

His first priority will be equalizing how properties are assessed between farmers, residential and commercial properties, he said.

“There are a lot of little details to tweak here and there and I think it might take three years to get a data base together to really make it work,” he said. “I’m going first thing tomorrow to get into the software and create the database we need to be consistent.”

Republican John Clarke defeated Democrat Donna Schroeder by a 64-36 percent margin for the seat on County Council Dist. 3 previously held by Shirley Wise.

He has been learning about the work of council by attending council meetings.

“I’m going to continue to go to the council meetings and see what’s coming up next year so hopefully it will lower the learning curve,” he said.

Lisa Mays Witt will replace retiring Clerk Melinda Sudhoff. The Republican defeated her Democratic challenger, Destini Bentley, 72-28 percent.

Witt works in the clerk’s office so will move only a few feet to her new desk in January.

“There will be some hurdles,” she said. “You have to train and work and ask questions and learn and maybe make a few mistakes. It takes lots of patience.”

She said found her first-time campaign a crazy experience.

“I lost a lot of sleep because I was always worrying trying to think what I wanted to do next,” she said. “(I did) lots of door knocking, talking to people. It’s been busy. I found I have lots of support, and I heard lots of good feedback.”

Harvey continued, “Overall we did well, but I’m so disappointed for our good friend Jay Collins. Jay had great ideas and would have been a great sheriff. He will continue to be a great law enforcement officer and great family man.”

Sheriff Joey Laughlin, a Democrat who was re-elected, said, “I’m humbled that so many people would cross over and vote for me.” 

Laughlin took a 60-40 percent victory.

He promised not to be a lame duck sheriff but will work to continue to make improvements in the department. He wants to work with the county council and commissioners for improvements and to raise salaries of the jail staff and road deputies. 

A new body scanner to be installed at the Fayette County Jail in the next couple weeks will be a great tool to reduce the ability of inmates to bring contraband into the jail, he said.

Those who followed Laughlin’s Facebook page saw a bit of humor as he placed his head on the shoulders of movie and television characters such as Barney Fife and Forrest Gump.

Laughlin said a friend had sent him one as a joke and he thought it would lighten the political scene as a counter to the bitter Senate campaign between Joe Donnelly and Mike Braun. As he went around the community, people would comment they enjoyed seeing the posts.


Incumbent Recorder Republican Ruth Nutty won re-election over challenger Nancy Toler, 69-31 percent. Nutty is looking forward to another four years.

“I’ve enjoy being the recorder and working with people,” she said. “We’re excited about some of the possibilities that might be in the future for us and looking for some improvements.”

The effort is underway to make the records available to the public online, she explained. It won’t happen quickly.

County Council President Mike Wenta, Dist. 1, took his re-election bid 67-33 percent over challenger Democrat Tim Bentley. 

With Strong moving to commissioner, that created a vacancy in Council District 2, which Rhodes won by a 70-30 percent vote over Democrat Jerry Ervin.

In District 4, Republican Frank Jackson chose not to run. Republican Kayla Nobbe took the seat over Democrat Amanda Faulk, 70-30 percent.

Uncontested races include Democrat Bill Macke for surveyor, Republican Prosecutor Bette Jones and Republican Auditor Jane Downard.

“I think our candidates worked hard and did an awesome job,” Republican County Chair Vivian Himelick said. “Our slogan this year was ‘Experience Counts.’ Our postcards said that, our signage said that and I really think this proves, experience does count.”

Locally, both sides had good candidates, said Democratic Party Chair Tim Rose. Democrat Sheriff Billy Wayson served two terms and now Laughlin will be in his second term.

“I’m proud of them,” he said. “I’m glad Dale won the commissioner’s seat. Bill Macke will continue in the surveyor’s office, and we’ve held that for close to 50 years.”

He was disappointed in the state races, with Republican Cindy Ziemke winning Indiana House District 55 over local Democrat Corinne Westerfield. In the county, Ziemke won 67-33 percent.

“We’ll end up losing our township government if she (Ziemke) has her way,” he said. “That’s sad. That’s where government starts.”

It is unfortunate there is another Pence in the U.S. House District 6 seat, he said.

“The other one (Vice President Mike Pence) didn’t do anything for Fayette County and I don’t see this one doing anything for Fayette County,” Rose said.

Greg Pence is the older brother for former Congressman Mike Pence, now vice president. Pence won the county 68-29 percent over Democrat Jeannine Lake, with 3 percent voting for Libertarian Tom Ferkinhoff.

He said Lake has told him to hold onto the signs for another possible run in two years.

Republican Braun defeating Incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly would also not be good, he said. Braun took the county 63-31-6 percent with Libertarian Lucy Brenton also in the race.

None of the three school board positions had competition. Chris Hunt, District 3, and Ann Kirschner, District 4, will return to the board along with newcomer Dennis Perkins Jr., also in District 3.

Perkins admitted he had not given much thought to the position, waiting for it to become official, but he is excited.

“I want to do my best,” he said. “My main focus is going to be first the kids, that’s what it is about. I want to represent them.”

He has worked with children and students throughout his career at his church, as a coach and as police officer. He said it is just being positive and listening to them to hear what they have to say.