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Stephens to run for auditor post in 2010

Some candidates who might seek election in November may think it’s a bit early to file that petition — the deadline is, after all, a couple of months away. But one local political candidate is already thinking ahead to next year.

Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens has picked up a petition to run for county auditor next year and said he intends to file it.

Incumbent Ray T. Dutey, who has held that post for more than two decades, has opted to retire.

Stephens, a Republican who was elected in November to his third term on the commission, said he feels like he is more than qualified for the job, can do it well and would like the challenge.

“I feel very well qualified. I think my educational background and my 10 years of experience as a county commissioner makes me qualified to serve in that office,” Stephens said.

The deadline for filing to run for office in any 2010 race falls in January. But Stephens said he doesn’t think it’s too early to get the ball rolling.

“Elections come awfully quick,” he said. “We’re less than a year from the primary.”

Dutey, who is 79, listed his age as the primary reason for retirement.

“I’d have been like Robert Byrd if I hadn’t,” he joked.

Dutey, a Republican, was elected auditor in 1987. He spent more than 20 years as county recorder before that.

Dutey said he has not made up his mind if he will exit early — former Lawrence County Recorder Sue Deeds retired before the end of her term eight years ago and the Lawrence County GOP appointed deputy recorder Sharon Gossett Hager to fill the remainder of Deeds’ term.

Former clerk of courts Dale Burcham retired early and his fellow Democrats appointed Bob Blankenship to fill the remainder of his term.

Both Hager and Blankenship then ran for those respective offices in their own right.

Dutey does support Stephen’s bid to replace him.

“I don’t know of a person more qualified than Jason,” he said. “He knows county government, knows the county budget.”

There had been some speculation that Dutey would retire early and appoint his Chief Deputy Auditor, Chris Kline, to fill his unexpired term with Kline then seeking the auditor’s job in the next election.

Dutey said Kline declined even though Dutey had told Kline he would throw his support to him if he chose to run.

Kline said he had thought about running but he has a young family — a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter — and did not want to take time away from his family to campaign.

He also did not want to take time away from his duties as chief deputy auditor to campaign, especially at a time when the county is facing financial issues.

“I thought about it and I prayed about it and decided this is not what I want to do right now,” Kline said.

Dutey said he did not know if he wanted to remain chairman of the Lawrence County Republican Party after he leaves office.

Mark McCown, secretary-treasurer for the Lawrence County Democratic Party, said he is not sure yet who amongst his party’s faithful might seek the auditor’s job but said there is plenty of time for those who are interested to declare their intentions.

“We’re still extremely early,” he said. “There are people who have not picked up (a petition) who plan to run in November.”

Doug Malone is the only county commissioner whose post is up in 2010. Stephens and fellow Commissioner Les Boggs were elected in November.

Malone said he is proud of his two terms on the county’s governing board and plans to seek a third term next year.

“It’s been tough the last few years but I enjoy it,” Malone said. “We’ve got projects started and I would like to see them through, we’ve got the medical center on (State Route) 141 and RiverWalk and the intermodal facility at The Point.”

Malone said he wants to continue efforts to build a spec building at the industrial park in Ironton.

“I worked at two plants in Ironton and I would love to see another plant in Ironton,” he said.