Stephens gets nod; Patterson holds seat

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2000

The GOP maintained its majority hold Tuesday night on the county’s highest governing body.

Wednesday, November 08, 2000

The GOP maintained its majority hold Tuesday night on the county’s highest governing body.

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Republican Jason Stephens claimed a down-to-the-wire victory for county commissioner over Democrat challenger Ron James, while Democrat incumbent George Patterson won re-election.

"Winning is very good," Stephens said, hugging his family and shaking hands with supporters at the courthouse shortly after the final election tally.

Early precinct counts kept Stephens and James separated by only dozens of votes. By the end of the night, the republican pulled ahead with 5 percent of the total – winning 11,877 to 10,708.

The race was hard fought, yet the real work is just beginning, Stephens said.

"The focus of my campaign was the future," he said. "And we’ve tried to let people know there are a lot of opportunities now. We can do better than we have before."

At 29 years old, Stephens ran for office as probably the youngest commissioner in recent history, and he ran against a former state legislator who had years of experience.

"People have gotten to know me better I think," he said, reflecting on his past defeats.

Aggressive door-to-door tactics, mailings, volunteer vote-getters, help from a family with longstanding county roots and active ideas for the county budget – they all contributed to victory this time, he said.

"And we did well in Ironton," he added. "It was still close coming out of Ironton but as we came up the river, we started to pull ahead and that made a real difference."

Once in office, Stephens will concentrate on planning ahead with county budget funds, specifically for economic development and other "high priority" issues, he said.

"I think people are very conscientious about how their money is spent and the most important job for a commissioner is making responsible decisions with taxpayer money."

Ron James did not visit the courthouse during the election, and was not home after the final tally. He could not be reached this morning for comment.

Democratic party members who watched as precinct workers brought ballots to the courthouse for Tuesday night’s counting thought at first that James’s experience would win the night.

"Stephens is young but he comes from a good family and a good name means a lot, but James has years of reputation as a proven leader," said Bob Blankenship.

Democrat party chairman Craig Allen said the party did not take some precincts as heavily as expected.

"In Labelle and Union, where we thought we would do better, it was close," Allen said.

In other words, Republican votes edged up closer than expected in traditionally more Democratic precincts.

Dave Lucas, political science professor at Ohio University Southern Campus who provided live commentary for WOUB-TV on local and national races, called the James-Stephens race an example of textbook campaigning.

Professional and clean campaigns brought messages to voters and Stephens’s message was the same at each turn, Lucas said.

"He’s a sharp looking boy, intelligent, and they saw him as a stick-to-the-guns kind of candidate each time," Lucas added. "He’s what Lawrence County wants for their future."

Stephens’s message and a pinpointed campaign won out over experience, he said.

Patterson campaigned on his record, which secured the Democrat’s win with 54.6 percent of the vote – 12,498 to 10,378 over Republican challenger Les Boggs.

"I’m extremely thankful and totally humble, and grateful to the citizens of this county," Patterson said. "Buddy Kaiser was a five-term commissioner and now I’m going to be. That means a lot."

The vote total shows the confidence residents had at the polls and how well the township-by-township campaign worked, he added.

"I ran on my record, really," he said.

It’s everything from the little things you do in office to the whole picture that makes a commissioner, Patterson said.

That means always returning phone calls, checking into individuals’ problems, working with agencies like the CAO, attending meetings, making tough decisions about the budget and working with other governments, he said.

"You can never forget the people."

The commission stays two Republicans and one Democrat, but Patterson said irregardless of politics the commission will try to do the best job it can and work together.

Boggs called the race for commission tough and fair.

"I take my hat off to Mr. Patterson," he said. "I worked very hard and we covered all our bases very well. Along the river I’d say we knocked on every door."

Boggs considered the race close and felt confident about the support he drew from more than 10,000 county voters.

"I got a lot of votes because a lot of people were ready for a change to a business-oriented person," he said.

Name recognition for the incumbent likely affected the race and "obviously, if you’ve been in office for 16 years, you get votes from somewhere," Boggs said.