Previewing county elections in 2019

By CHARLIE SMITH,

This is the big one, the year so many election positions are on the ballot that it’s hard to keep up with them all. And based on the number of qualifiers already for offices in Marion County, it’s going to be a busy political season.

At the top of the list, Chancery Clerk Cass Barnes is not seeking re-election to what is probably the most influential position in county government. He’s been extremely well liked, and no challenger would have had much of a chance to defeat him. Now the door is wide open for who will be the next generation of leadership.

So far two of his deputy clerks, Joy Daley Baughman and Elisha Prisk Moree, have qualified to run. Expect many more to enter the field before the March 1 deadline.

Also, the longest serving county official, Coroner Norma Williamson, is retiring when her term expires. Those vying so far to take her place include Alicia Neal Herrington, Ashley Davis Nibert and Carla Thornhill.

For District 1 justice court judge, incumbent Sharon Whitfield has not qualified, and three candidates so far have stepped forward through Monday: David Reed, Carlton Thornhill and Joseph Turney.

For sheriff, four interesting candidates have come out already:

  • Incumbent Berkley Hall, who is seeking a fourth term.
  • Former deputy Lance Poirier, now with the Columbia Police Department. Poirier is well-known after his recovery from a serious injury suffered after he was hit by a car during a 2017 pursuit.
  • Former Columbia Police Chief Mike Cooper, who stepped down last year because he said he had frustrations with a lack of resources and a growing towing business.
  • Adrian Fortenberry, a sergeant with the CPD. Fortenberry ran against Hall in 2011, but Hall won easily, getting 62 percent of the vote.

There’s a lot of angles to this one, but the strongest position to be in during an election is an incumbent. Although certainly not impossible, it’s difficult to unseat someone who is established and been elected repeatedly by a majority of the voters unless there is a clear and compelling reason.

That same goes for the Board of Supervisors. I expect contested races, but for the incumbents to have a clear advantage.

In other county races, Circuit Clerk Janette Nolan, Tax Assessor-Collector Teresa Terrell, District 2 Justice Court Judge Gwen Broom and District 2 Constable Robbie Gill have all qualified for re-election. District Attorney Hal Kittrell, who serves in a five-county area, has also qualified, as have State Reps. Bill Pigott and Ken Morgan. I would expect each of those officials, all Republicans, to be safe.

But here’s the thing: The best ones, even when they know that, still campaign hard. And that’s how it should be, keeping them accountable to the people they represent. It’s a privilege many in the world don’t have of choosing their leaders, and each of us as citizens should educate ourselves before voting.

One position that won’t be on the ballot this time is county superintendent of education. A new state law eliminated all elected superintendents at the end of this term, and Marion County Superintendent Wendy Bracey has said she plans to retire when her term expires in January 2020. That position will now be appointed by the county school board, which will have an important decision on its hands as well this year.

Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him at 736-2611 or csmith@columbianprogress.com.