Breaking down the race: County Executive
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Welcome to the WCSA’s 2022 local election coverage! You may be wondering why a sports guy wants to write about elections and I believe it’s a fair question, so let me explain. For years, I’ve been what my family liked to call “apolitical.” When topic of politics would come up, my eyes would glaze over and I’d rarely have anything to add to the conversation other than, “Does anybody need another one?” when I went to get a refill of my drink.
Recently, I’ve taken a lot of more interest in elections – but only those happening in Warren County. I’ve been fond of saying, “When I know an election can have a direct effect on me, then I’ll care.’ Well, there’s few elections that happen in Warren County (or McMinnville – I live in the city) that don’t affect me. Now that I’m a homeowner and business owner, I really wanted to start paying attention, learning a little bit more about our elected officials and the people who challenged them and tried to make good selections.
That still doesn’t answer why I want to write about them though. That answer is easier: I like the entertainment value of election night, particularly breaking down the votes and seeing people react to the thrill of victory (or the agony of defeat, though that’s not as fun to see). I’ve posted up at the election office with my computer more than a few times to analyze the number in real time, often drawing an audience of candidates chewing their fingernails as I input the latest counts throughout the night.
Now, I want to extend that entertainment to the lead up in some of the most interesting races coming up this year. As a county, we’ve known for a long time who were going to be the incumbents and challengers in 2022, but now that the election is literally on our door step (early voting starts Friday, July 15), it’s time to dig deep. So here we are – Let’s go!!!
County Executive Race – August 4 General Election
Incumbent: Jimmy Haley (elected 2018)
Challenger: Terry Bell (won Republican primary in May)
The master of Haley-isms meets the monster of Midway for a second time as Jimmy Haley and Terry Bell square off next month in hopes of being elected County Executive on Thursday, Aug. 4. It’s a rematch of the 2018 election, one Haley won decidedly as he replaced Herschel Wells Sr. (who did not seek re-election). Haley collected 55.5 percent of the total votes in 2018 (5,434 of 9,787) while nearly doubling Bell’s showing (3,067 votes – 31.3 percent).
Why will it be different this year? Let’s take a deeper look into the numbers first.
BY THE NUMBERS
How can Bell start making up ground against Haley in the vote total? It’ll start with being the lone opponent in the race, as opposed to 2018 when Ray Hixson (1,029 votes) and Allie Hyatt (257 votes) were on the ballot. This will be the first time since 2010 when John Pelham (D) defeated John Shields (R) that we’ll have a 1-on-1 in the general election.
Does that help Bell? It depends on how many of the 1,286 votes that went to neither Bell, nor Haley in 2018 break the challenger’s way. It should be noted that even if Bell took home all of them, he’ll still be trailing Haley’s count for 2018 by 1,081 votes. That’s still quite the margin.
If you want to start building a baseline for Bell’s count, go back to the Republican primary. Now that he’s running as a Republican (he ran as an independent in 2018), could he consolidate all the votes from May? Bell defeated Joseph Stotts by a final count of 1,890 to 1,867 votes just a couple months ago, earning a chance at a match up against Haley again in the general election.
The math starts adding up better for Bell if he can pull all of Stotts’ supporters into the fold this month. If all the voters in the Republican primary came out and chose the Republican candidate in August, Bell would collect 3,757 votes – still not besting Haley’s winning total from 2018, but that's nearly 700 more votes than Bell collected last time. Will that happen? It’s not likely, but that’s where the math starts for the challenger.
For the incumbent, the numbers are much clearer. Haley’s support has been strong every time he’s went for a big office locally. As noted, he cleared more than half the votes in the four-person county executive race in 2018. It came in similar fashion to how he was elected mayor in 2012 – where he emerged from a four-person field with 54 percent of the vote (including unseating the incumbent).
When Haley went for re-election as mayor in 2016, he bumped up to collecting 65 percent of the vote. Haley has clearly established he has staying power in positions – if anything, he gets more popular the second time around (2,020 votes for mayor in 2012; 2,510 in 2016).
For Haley to get more vote this time around, he would either need to carve out a section of the Hyatt/Hixson votes from 2018 or look for a bigger turnout this year (or both). It’ll be interesting to see if the turnout trends up for another round of elections.
If you look back to 2014, when Wells Sr. was elected, five candidates combined to receive 7,727 votes. Just four years ago, the four candidates collected 9,787 votes. Both times the job was up-for-grabs with no incumbent in the race, so people really wanted to get to the polls in 2018 as participation jumped by 26.7 percent.
Also in 2014, a heavily contested Democratic primary (where Wells Sr. emerged from a five-person field) brought out 5,315 votes, while the 2022 Republican primary (albeit with just two candidates), had the above-mentioned 3,757 votes. In other words, the 2014 primary race had 41.5 percent more votes cast than in 2022 when deciding general election candidates.
It’s not all about numbers though – Let’s look at some other talking points around the race:
Chairman of the Commission
While Haley was elected as county executive by the community in 2018, he hasn’t served as chairman of the Warren County Commission since 2019. Blaine Wilcher has served in that role in the last three years, earning the opportunity to make committee assignments and lead meetings. It’ll be interesting if that will continue in 2022 – it would first take Wilcher winning his seat back (he’s in a three-person race for two seats in District 4) and then the commission making a decision in September after Haley or Bell hold the executive job.
Red wave coming?
It’s been a growing trend for local folks to talk about the Republican party building momentum locally, especially when the party has drawn overwhelming support recently for state and national candidates (primarily former President Donald Trump). While there isn’t a lot of past evidence to suggest the shift at a local level, it will change in August as the number of Republican candidates has skyrocketed for the local elections.
It’s already known that Ryan J. Moore, who ran as a Republican for general sessions judge, will be elected next month. The party will also have a ticket that includes candidates for county executive, circuit court judge, district attorney, sheriff and 11-of-12 commission districts. On the flip side, there are only Democrat candidates in 5-of-12 commission districts (and none running for any individual office on the ballot). It’s hard to imagine a scenario where there are more Democrats serving Warren County after the election than Republicans (Independents will still have plenty of sway though).
It was only 12 years ago when Blaine Wilcher became the first Republican to win in Warren County (when he earned his first term as county commissioner). Bell is attempting to become the county’s first Republican county executive.
Haley’s local strength on display
I’ve joked for years that the only pushes at the polls more popular in Warren County than electing Haley in the last decade were getting alcohol and supporting Donald Trump. It’s really true though – selling wine passed in 2016 with 68 percent of the vote (Haley got 65 percent for mayor that year; Liquor stores got 62 percent, so he had them beat) and Trump received 73 percent local voting support in 2016 and 2020.
Haley’s wins have been dominant. He more than doubled the second-place finisher in the 2012 and 2016 mayor races and won by 2,000-plus votes in the 2018 county executive race. That’s hard to do in major elections, especially in a community that has always seemed to gravitate to close calls (like Bell beating Stotts by 23 votes two months ago). If Haley makes it four wins in a row and again doubles up his top opponent (while also becoming a two-term county executive after winning a second term as mayor), it’ll be hard to say any one person has been more electable in recent history than the current county exec.
Perhaps the best person to ask would be a local town historian – like Haley.
In the coming days, we’ll also have a breakdown of the district attorney and sheriff races. If you enjoyed this column, please let us know by emailing email@example.com.
As always, the WCSA will be offering all candidates and incumbents the opportunity to make their announcements for running free of charge on our site. Just contact Jeffery Simmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.