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Commissioner challengers win two, lose one in Jackson

The fate of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners rested with this election. With six candidates on the ballot — aligning themselves neatly into two teams of three — voters were asked to decide if they were satisfied with the conservative incumbents or would they rather return to an all-Democratic affair.


The end vote didn’t slice as neatly as the two teams of candidates. While challengers Brian McMahan and Boyce Deitz will be coming onto the board, incumbent Commissioner Charles Elders, a Republican, also held on to his seat.

McMahan, with 56.4 percent of the vote, beat sitting Chairman Jack Debnam, who got 43.6 percent. Deitz got 54.91 percent of the vote to beat out Doug Cody, with 45.09 percent. Joe Ward was the lone losing challenger, with his 48.3 percent of the vote compared to incumbent Charles Elders 51.7 percent.   

Though the Democratic challengers didn’t sweep the races, McMahan still sounded pretty happy with the results.

“I think it says that Jackson County is ready for a change,” McMahan said. 

McMahan will be making a return to the chairman’s seat. He originally served from 2005 through 2010. He lost his seat, along with two other Democratic commissioners, in 2010 when the trio of conservative opponents was voted in. 

Just as the 2010 race was viewed by Republicans as proof that Jackson citizens were wary of the Democratic status quo — and specifically, of development moratoriums and ordinances — this year’s election is being viewed by the victors as verification that voters were ready for a change from the commission’s current conservative lean.

“I think it sends as message that everyone in the county wants to be respected, not just a few,” said Boyce Deitz, who unseated incumbent Commissioner Doug Cody. 

McMahan and Deitz were joined in their challenge to the incumbents by Democrat Joe Ward. Ward ended up losing his seat to Commissioner Charles Elders. 

“We did lose one,” McMahan said. “I was sad to see that Joe didn’t make it.”

Elders, the only incumbent to hold on to his seat, said he was also sad to see his fellow incumbents lose.

“It feel a little disappointed losing my two buddies there,” Elders said. 

Cody conceded that the incumbent loses signaled the people’s desire for a change.

“I would’ve like to have won, but the people have spoken and obviously they wanted a change and that’s what they’ll get,” Cody said. “I hope things work out the best for everyone.”

Cody also said that state level issues — such as education funding and fracking — likely had a negative trickle down effect on the local commissioners races.

“Anytime you have an issue that motivates the base of you opponent it’s not a good thing,” the commissioner said. “And they were highly motivated.”

Chairman Jack Debnam, an unaffiliated candidate, attributed his loss to the Democrats ground game. 

“Well, the Democrats evidently got out and worked harder,” Debnam laughed on election night. 

The chairman also said that he was proud of the work accomplished during the past four years. 

“You know, I’m not ashamed of anything we’ve done,” the chairman said. “I’d do it again just like I did.”

Debnam also wonders how the new board — nearly a Democrat majority, save for Leers — will operate.

“That’ll be the interesting part,” he said.

McMahan think the new composition will function just fine. Like the current board, he expects the new board to find itself in unanimous agreement more often than not.

“As Chairman Debnam has said in the past, about 95 percent of their votes have been unanimous,” McMahan said. “I don’t see that changing a lot with the new board.”



Jackson Commissioners

Chairman (one seat)

Brian McMahan (D)5,783

Jack Debnam* (I)4,476

District 1, Whittier (one seat)

Charles Elders* (R)5,496

Joe Ward (D) 5,127

District 2, greater Sylva (one seat)

Boyce Deitz (D) 5,851

Doug Cody* (R) 4,804

*denotes incumbent

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