Simmons Says - Final election thoughts


In less than 100 hours, we are going to find out who holds sway in Warren County. Campaigning that began last summer will finally be brought to an end as we’ll have the answer to who will be the next County Executive, Sheriff, District Attorney, County Clerk, School Board members, commissioners and judges by late Thursday night.


I don’t want to speak for the candidates, but from somebody who has been in the war rooms and campaign processes during the most recent local elections, I’m sure they are all ready to sleep in Friday and take a long weekend (which will actually be full of taking down signs across the county). In the new world where information is processed and news is created 24/7, 365, there’s just no way to rest on the campaign trail.


One day you’re in Morrison eating burgers, then the next day you’re at Midway eating burgers. The next weekend, there’s a fundraiser at Centertown, where they have awesome burgers. If people want to get real fun, there will be a talent show – where you get to get up and do a song and dance before retreating back to your table for burgers. And, let’s not forget, you have to advance at least a year in advance so you can be at the Warren County A&L Fair every night wearing shirts, giving out signs, shaking hands, kissing babies and … you guessed it … eating burgers.


Honestly, I think the only thing I’d like about running for office is eating burgers, but I do that daily and don’t have to deal with having to ask hundreds of people face-to-face for their support while knowing there’s probably a 50-50 chance (at best) they’re going to go to a machine and punch my name. That’s been the daily routine for all these great candidates we have up for election Thursday --- smile, nod, eat burgers, buy signs, buy more signs, eat more burgers and, maybe, sleep. Oh yeah, work your day job too – because the majority of these candidates aren’t running for an office that is going to be their primary source of income for the next four years.


I know some people are thinking that calling all these candidates great is a little presumptuous, but I give them all a round of applause for stepping in the ring and taking on the challenge (and taking all the punches too). Many are signing up for what will be largely thankless jobs of the highest order, but they’ve all taken their civic duty to heart and went above and beyond – BRAVO!


Now, all I’ve been asked for the last 2-3 weeks is, “Who is going to win?” And my answer has stayed the same – I don’t really know. Handicapping these races is nearly impossible because I honestly don’t know what gets voters to the polls. Maybe it’s the candidate’s message, maybe it’s the party affiliation, maybe it is name recognition or a sense of pride of punching the ballot every 2-4 years.


I’ve seen enough campaigns to know that the moment you think you’re in a good spot, you need to get a grip on reality. I could come out with the best straw poll of all time – the Simmons Straw Poll does sound like something I’d do – and still these candidates would lay down Wednesday night and just stare at the ceiling or count down with the clock until dawn. If there’s one thing I can tell them all that will be of relief, it’s that I’m not going to stick a camera in their face no matter what Thursday, so don’t worry about those bags under your eyes from lack of sleep or the messy hair and sweat from trying to make it to every single polling station on Election Day.

I also encourage them all to have an election night party with their closest friends and family, regardless of the outcome, Thursday night. You all deserve to have that time to wind down and relax. Remember, sometimes we drink to remember and sometimes we drink to forget!


If you’re wondering how I’ll be wrapping up my coverage of the county elections (and just remember, we still have some key positions up for grabs in November too), I have good news for you. I’ve already got the clearance from the great Susie Davenport, Administrator of Elections, to set up shop in the election office hallway and track the results.


My spreadsheets are set up and I’m still debating on how I’ll release my information – whether it’s on Facebook Live on the WCSA page, through multiple posts that night or picking up with an affiliate already doing coverage and giving them my tidbits. I’ve been a part of the WCPI 91.3 FM broadcast in the past, but something tells me a Simmons-Zechman reunion isn’t in the cards anytime soon.


I’m hoping for another year where my numbers are 100 percent accurate by the end of the night. In 2018 and 2020, I finished the night with a perfect score and was able to track the closest races in real time as they were released. If I can make it three in a row, I may have to invest in one of those interactive maps they use on the major networks and start being the John King of Warren County.


When it’s over, I hope to give out some handshakes, congratulate a few winners and sleep well before bouncing back into Pioneer football. I know it won’t be campaign season anymore, but I’m encouraging all those running to come to Nunley Stadium Friday night and enjoy some R&R while watching Warren County scrimmage South Pittsburg.


It’ll be the best way to paint a clear picture of what I hope every candidate already feels – The best Warren County is a unified one.


BY THE NUMBERS



Circuit Court Judge Race – August 4 Election

Incumbent: Bart Stanley (elected 2002, 2006 - unopposed, 2014 - unopposed)

Challenger: Scott Horton (ran unopposed in Republican primary in May)


For the first time in 20 years, Bart Stanley will face opposition in the race to become the Circuit Court Judge of the 31st Judicial District. Stanley took over the seat in 2002 when he was elected to fill Chuck Haston’s term, which he was four years into after being elected in 1998. Before Stanley, Haston was the only other judge to hold the job in the 31st Judicial District, which serves Warren County and Van Buren County.


Stanley emerged from a five-person field in 2002, defeating Robert Newman, Richard McGregor, Keith Smartt and Peg Stewart. Stanley ran unopposed in 2006 – when he earned his first full eight-year term – and was again unchallenged in 2014.


Stanley showed plenty of strength back in 2002 on the ballot, taking 42 percent of the vote in Warren County in a crowded field and 41 percent in Van Buren County. All told, Stanley finished with 5,491 votes (41.9 percent) of the 13,120 cast in both counties 20 years ago. Newman finished a distant second, claiming 4,039 votes (30.8 percent).


Horton notched 3,003 votes (2,368 in Warren County, 635 in Van Buren County) while running unopposed in May’s Republican primary. It was a mere formality that Horton would move on, but he was still able to get a big number of complimentary votes to build a potential strong base of support.


There is no real baseline for judging the judge race, particularly with Stanley never facing a 1-on-1 challenger in three runs and Horton being on the ballot for the position for the first time. If there’s any additional analysis, it would be potential number of votes needed to win.


The Southern Standard reported Sunday that 5,455 votes were cast in early voting. While it’s a nice showing, it’s actually down from the 2018 August General Election when 5,792 votes were cast. It’s also a far cry from the 10,550 early votes cast in the 2020 November election (which included the Presidential race).


You can find the full Standard story here: https://www.southernstandard.com/top-stories/local-headlines/over-5000-cast-early-ballots/


If you take into account that 2018’s early vote total made up nearly 58 percent of the total in Warren County that year and 62.2 percent of locals voted early in 2020, it’s hard to imagine the 2022 race makes it to 10,000 votes. Meeting the last two big elections in the middle and assuming this year’s early vote tally ends up at 60 percent of the final sum, there would be an estimated 9,092 total votes locally. To get the majority in a 1-on-1 with that amount (assuming every single person cast a vote in the race, which isn’t likely), a candidate will need to collect 4,547 votes in Warren County.


Van Buren County added 2,365 votes in the race in 2002, so it’ll take 1,183 more votes to potentially win in VBC (assuming the same amount, though only 1,850 people voted in VBC in the 2014 31st Judicial District race for District Attorney). All told, the victor in the race is probably going to need to clear in the neighborhood of 5,500 votes to hold the position.


For reference, that is in close alignment with the amount of votes Lisa Zavogiannis earned in 2014 when she won the District Attorney race). That year, Zavogiannis took a close race against Tim Pirtle with 5,165 votes (51.7 percent).


BY THE NUMBERS



County Court Clerk Race – August 4 Election

Incumbent: Lesa Scott (elected in 2006, 2010, 2014 – unopposed, 2018 - unopposed)

Challenger: Holly Goolsby Hodges


Lesa Scott has enjoyed stress-free election nights the last two times her position was on the ballot, but getting a fifth term in 2022 won’t be as simple. Holly Goolsby Hodges will be the first challenger Scott has seen since defeating Randy England back in 2010.


Scott first emerged on the job 16 years ago, outlasting a 13-person field in February 2006 to take the position by August. On election night, Scott was facing five other challengers, the most formidable being England. On the final night, Scott was able to carry most the precincts while collecting 4,207 votes. England was well behind with 3,402 votes, while the rest of field included Mike Neal (724), Sammy Walker (683), Michael Bell (425) and Scotty Nelson (312).


While Scott technically was unopposed at the August General Election in 2010, she still had to survive a rematch with England that year. Both were candidates in the Democratic Primary, one Scott took head-to-head with 3,304 votes to England’s 2,753 total.


Hodges will be the toughest – and first - challenge Scott has faced since 2010. Both are running as independent candidates, with Hodges looking to earn her first votes since neither were on ballots during the May primary.


Using the above analysis on the potential amount of turnout in Warren County, it figures to be a race to 4,500 votes to win the position. The last time the job was on the ballot in the General Election, there were 9,753 total votes – right in line with the projected number of voter turnout in 2022.



Interesting tidbits on each county commissioner race


District 1 – Ron Lee is seeking his fourth consecutive term in the first district, which has been a three-horse race for two seats in each of the last three elections. In 2018, Lee, Christy Ross (eventual high-vote getter) and Sally Brock were separated by two votes after early voting was counted. If one person would’ve swapped their vote from Ross to Brock, all three would have been tied in early voting. That was crazy!


Lee and Ryan Sexton were the only two commissioners on the ballot Thursday who had to win their way to the General Election in 2022. Lee (170) and Sexton (142) were able to top Tim Lewis (79) in May’s Republican primary.


District 2 – Our biggest field in 2022 belongs to the second district, where six competitors will be vying for two seats. Only one of those candidates – Robert Hennessee – is an incumbent as Carl E. Bouldin will no longer be in the fold.


Going back to 2006, Bouldin has been the top vote getter in each of the last four elections, including getting a whopping 594 votes in 2006 when it was also a six-person field. That year, there were 1,650 votes in the race (remember, each voter has the option of picking two people, though they’re not required to choose two). During a few four-person races, the voting dipped into the 900s, but a five-candidate race in 2018 drew 1,850 votes.


It feels like the benchmark in District 2 is 400 votes, a total Hennessee, Scottie Kell, Cam Montgomery, Dana Hillis Mullican, Dwight Bouldin and Sommer Walker all will try to reach.


District 3 – Another three-horse race that features one incumbent, one past commissioner and a newcomer. Joseph Stotts had to vacate his seat when he made the move to run for county executive in 2022, leaving Kasey Owens as the lone returner. Owens will be looking for her first four-year term, however.


Owens took the seat Richard Grissom vacated in a 2020 run-off against Bill Martin, winning 296-236. Michael Shane Wilcher will be on the ballot in the third district for the third straight time – he was a winner in 2014, but lost his seat in a four-person race in 2018.


Chris Rippy makes it an elimination race, as only two can take office. Rippy is running for the first time and will likely need to garner 400-plus votes to take a spot. Stotts (484) and Grissom (405) both eclipsed the mark in 2018. Additional note: this is the first time in 20 years that George Smartt won’t be on the ballot in District 3, an area he represented for many years.


District 4 – Incumbents Blaine Wilcher and David Dunlap will have their hands full holding off James Hines as the trio plays musical chairs with just two seats available. Wilcher and Dunlap aren’t new to the three-person race – it was the same format in 2018 when the two pulled away from Teddy D. Boyd, a longtime rep for the fourth district.


Wilcher still holds the claim of being the first Republican to hold office in Warren County, winning his District 4 seat in 2010 and holding it in two subsequent elections. Wilcher, if he holds on for a fourth term, is unlikely to be the only Republican on the commission like he was in his 2010 debut. Republican candidates are the most prevalent on the ballots, leading the way with 18 candidates. There are 17 Independent candidates and five Democratic candidates for 24 seats.


District 5 – While it’s always been a hotly contested district, the fifth district rarely has candidates running in multiple races. Of the four people in this year’s race, only incumbent Tyrone Sparkman was in the four-person 2018 field. Back in 2018, only Michael Martin returned from a five-person field in 2014 and was defeated after holding a seat in the fifth for 24 years.


Brad Hillis is also an incumbent in the district, though he took his seat in 2020 when Lori Judkins stepped away before her term ended. Hillis defeated Ben Myers 593-242 in November 2020. Autumn Malone and Scott Kelly are hot on the trail in hopes of unseating Sparkman and Hillis this week.


District 6 – No matter what, there will be at least three new commissioners this week. One of those new commissioners will be in District 6. With Deborah Evans not choosing to seek re-election, there will be at least one new face coming out of the sixth.


Phillip Stout, the top vote getter when he and Evans were the only two on the ballot in 2018, will be looking to return, while Raymond Roberts and Donna Smith have the best odds to be the newest faces on the commission.


District 7 & 8 – Congrats to Gary Martin (D7), Tommy Savage (D7), Scott Rubley (D8) and Randy England (D8) as they are going to hold on to their seats with no challenge in the General Election.


District 9 – Stephen Helton is a testament for perseverance as a candidate as he hopes to keep his seat for a second term. Helton first ran in District 9 in 2010, finishing fourth and coming up 75 votes short of a seat (when Wayne Copeland and Bessie Smithson won). By 2014, Helton was on the cusp of busting through, but suffered a heart-breaking loss when he came up nine votes short of election (Copeland and Carlene Brown took office that year).


Only Bobby Turner has a narrower loss in the General Election since 2006, falling by just a couple votes in 2010. Cole Taylor also lost by one vote in 2014, albeit in the primary.


Finally, in 2018, Helton made his way into office as the district’s top vote getter (479). Brown was also re-elected that year, garnering a solid 426 votes. Stephen Potter is looking to take one of their seats in 2022 as he’s made it a three-person sprint to the finish line.


District 10 – Speaking of Taylor, he and Gary Prater will be trying to keep their seats while Harold Hyatt puts up a challenge. Taylor bounced back from his one-vote loss in 2014 to earn the most votes (400) during a six-person race in 2018.


Prater was just as stout four years ago, getting 369 votes to keep his long-standing seat in the commission. With a win Thursday, Prater will have the opportunity to serve a quarter-century as a county commissioner – He’s already put in 24 years counting this current year.


District 11 – Metallica is back in popular culture thanks to ‘Master of Puppets’ appearing in Stranger Things, but ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ would fit District 11 better. For 20 years, a Bell has been representing the area, with Terry Bell serving for 16 years and Michael Bell taking over in 2018 when Terry ran for county executive.


Steve Glenn is actually the returning high vote getter from 2018 though, when he pulled 406 votes to take a seat in the 11th district. Bell had 375, holding off a strong challenge from Mary Roller, who isn’t back in the field despite getting a big 324-vote total four years ago.


New to the field in District 11 this year is Matthew Bratcher and Lee Cooper, who will likely need 300+ votes to supplant the current incumbents.


District 12 – My last fun fact of this election season – if Carl D. Bouldin is able to win and complete his fourth term in the 12th district, he’d still be 13 years behind Carl E. Bouldin’s 29 years of service he’s wrapping up this year. To put that in perspective, Carl D. Bouldin’s service time – if reelected – would be old enough to drive by 2026, yet it still would be a teenager behind catching Carl E. Bouldin’s time serving the community.

If he wants that Sweet 16 on his resume, Carl D. will need to emerge from a field that includes Daniel Owens (a fellow incumbent), Tommy Davenport and Kenny Moffitt.

 

That’s all I have sports fans. If you haven’t voted yet, please do. We had 17,000-plus people vote just two years ago for national elections --- there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have that many (or more) who also want to make their voices heard when it comes to LOCAL elections.


I already made my selections so I could make sure I reserved the right to go yell at them at board meetings later in their terms. Don’t you want to know their names before you’re blaming them for stuff a few months from now? These are the people you’re going to be seeing personally for the next 4-8 years – learn them now, pick your favorite and push the button.


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