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Wednesday, 14 May 2014 13:20

Republican runoff called in Jackson sheriff race

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A single primary wasn’t enough to clear out the crowded field of candidates for the sheriff’s seat in Jackson County. Though Deputy Sheriff Chip Hall carried 42 percent of the vote in a field of six Democratic candidates, the three Republican candidates finished virtually neck and neck. 

 

“I was holding my breath hoping for not a tie,” said Lisa Lovedahl, director of the Jackson County Board of Elections. 

She got her wish — just barely. Curtis Lambert, a former Sylva police officer, came in first with 36 percent of the vote, but retired logger Jim Hodgins and bail bondsman Mary Rock split the remaining 64 percent nearly perfectly. When votes were finalized Tuesday afternoon, a single vote inched Hodgins’ 376 votes above Rock’s 375.

Any time the highest vote-getter in a primary election gets less than 40 percent of the vote, the runner-up has the right to call for a runoff. Hodgins plans to do just that. 

“I sort of jumped the gun,” Hodgins said last week. “I wasn’t used to this running for sheriff, and I told them I wanted to sign up for the runoff, but they told me they wouldn’t have all the votes counted until next Tuesday.”

As soon as the count was finalized, Hodgins made his request. 

But elections don’t come free. It typically costs about $35,000 to hire poll workers, create ballots, set up voting machines and pay all the other expenses that go along with holding an election. 

Hodgins, though, believes that a second primary will be worth the money. 

“To tell you the truth, the reason why I’m going to face a runoff if I can is because I’m going in with no experience as a law officer, and this sheriff boy I’m going to be running against has been in there for years. Four votes ain’t that much apart for one with experience and one with no experience,” said Hodgins, referencing the vote tally as of May 7. 

Lambert agrees that the second primary will come down to a question of experience but believes that his will be an asset in a contest against Hodgins. 

“I feel like people need an experienced person in there, and this is what this is going to boil down to,” he said. “You need someone with experience to run the sheriff’s department.”

The Democratic sheriff’s primary brought in 3,640 voters, while only 1,150 people voted on the Republican side. With fewer votes to go around, it can be harder for the results to give a true read on the public’s desires. 

“Come the fall there will be many more Republican voters that will come to the polls,” Lambert said. 

The second primary will likely be held June 24, and the sheriff’s race will be the only local office on the ballot in Jackson County. 

“If a second primary is called [in the federal elections] it will go to July the 15th, but from everything I saw that’s probably not going to happen,” said Lisa Lovedahl, Jackson County’s elections director. 

“It’s important for the people to have their voice,” Lambert said. 

 

Hall wins Democratic nod for sheriff

The Democratic field was chock-full of candidates for Jackson County Sheriff, but Chip Hall came out solidly on top of the closest runner-up, Steven Lillard. Hall, who currently serves as chief deputy for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, captured 42 percent of the vote compared to the 34 percent that Lillard, assistant police chief at Western Carolina University, received. The next closest candidate, Sylva Police Officer Douglas Farmer, got 11 percent. 

“I’m very excited to have won the Democratic nomination to move on to November,” Hall said. “I just want to move forward and do my best to work for Jackson County and work for the citizens of Jackson County.”

Hall took a day off work to recuperate the day after the election, but after that it was back to work, both at the office and on the campaign. In November, Hall will face the winner of the Republican runoff between Curtis Lambert and Jim Hodgins. 

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