and SARAH LOWERY
Lincoln Times-News staff
Carrol Mitchem emerged as the overwhelming favorite in a six-way Republican primary for three county commissioner seats Tuesday, winning the most votes overall and placing well in nearly every portion of the county.
Claiming his third term on the Board of Commissioners, the Vale farmer and restaurateur captured 6,508 votes, 22.22 percent of the total cast. With three seats up for grabs, a candidate had to finish in the top three and post better than 13.33 percent to avoid a runoff.
While commending the other candidates and thanking his supporters as he addressed a crowd at Republican headquarters in Lincolnton Tuesday night, Mitchem said, “I think the numbers speak.”
He said he understands what people want the county to do; going to continue to do the very best he can to make Lincoln County a better place to live, work and play.
After a wild contest in 2010 that resulted in a potential five-way runoff and eventually a faceoff that Cecelia Martin lost to Jim Klein, no second primary will be needed this year as Martin’s second bid for county commissioner proved successful. The former court reporter from Crouse took 5,432 votes, 18.54 percent of the total countywide.
Martin finished in second place in most areas of the county, while winning her home precinct in Crouse outright.
She told the Times-News Tuesday night that she thinks she won by trying to bring the county together.
“I ran on the idea that I would represent all people,” she said.
She also said she thought it would be nice to have a woman on the board.
“I worked hard to get my message across,” she added. “I look forward to a long relationship with my fellow commissioners.”
Third place went to incumbent Commissioner Alex Patton, who will serve a third term on the board. The grocery store manager from Lincolnton took 5,232 votes, for 17.86 overall, placing him just 500 votes ahead of the fourth-place candidate, Martin Oakes of Denver.
Oakes dominated the vote in the eastern Catawba Springs area, the county’s most populous, but generally finished only a bit ahead of Patton in most of those precincts. Patton was consistently in second or third place in most areas of the county.
Patton told the crowd at Republican headquarters Tuesday night that he knows he’s had a “bullseye” on him after serving as board chairman over the last four years, being blamed for various things and being the subject of false stories and criticisms.
He thanks “the good Lord above,” and expressed appreciation to those who stood by him throughout his campaign, especially his wife and son.
Patton emphasized the county’s low tax rate and promised to keep Lincoln County “a good place to be.”
Finishing in fifth and sixth place were Mike Davis of Crouse and Larry Turbyfill of Denver.
The election results will bring a change in only one seat on the Board of Commissioners, as Cecelia Martin replaces George Arena of Denver, who declined to run for a second term this year.
However, this may indicate a significant shift in the direction of the board. Martin’s arrival on the board will end a period of East Lincoln dominance on the five-member board, with only Carl Robinson and Klein remaining as commissioners from that part of the county.
It also ends a period in which the most populous precinct, Westport, has successfully dictated the result of commissioner elections, with Oakes losing despite those voters’ backing.
A closer look suggests a complex breakdown along the major issues that have divided the county in recent years and an unclear message from voters.
During this year’s campaigns, Mitchem, Davis and Oakes were aggressive in calling for significant changes in the county’s tax office. Despite being the top overall voter-getter, however, Mitchem was the only one of that group to prevail.
Patton, Klein and Arena have been consistently supportive of the current tax administration, with Robinson joining them during some discussions, but seeming to side with Mitchem at other times. Cecelia Martin has not taken a strident position on the issue, but could potentially push the board toward a program of reform in this area if she sides with Mitchem.
Possibly one reason Oakes failed to gain traction outside of the eastern portion of the county was his staunch support for zoning measures, including the Unified Development Ordinance passed by the county in 2009, which has proven unpopular in other areas of the county.
Mitchem has been the biggest critic of the UDO on the current board and Cecelia Martin may join him in raising questions about zoning. On the other hand, Patton and Robinson have sided with Mitchem on a number of votes against a more restrictive application of vision plans and zoning. With Klein often joining Arena in votes that have broken down this way, he may now find himself alone in supporting such a measure.
With no Democrats in the race, the Republican winners will take office in November.