Miller says final county filing day is 'bittersweet'

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

For the first time in 28 years, Rodney Miller didn't file for Cape Girardeau county clerk.

Tuesday's election filing wasn't any ordinary filing day for Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller.

It was the last time Missouri's longest-tenured clerk would greet familiar county incumbents with that old jury box, used now as a lottery-type system to see whose name gets placed on the ballot first.

The old metal box, used years ago to select juries, was a microcosm Tuesday of the changing history at the county administrative building. Miller announced recently he wasn't refiling for his eighth term. When his term expires on Dec. 31, 2006, Miller will have served the county for 28 years.

He smiled and joked with several people who were in line waiting to draw numbers.

The faces were familiar. Every incumbent whose seat is up for re-election refiled (see related graphic.)

"Last year I drew out a 10," said Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, who has served alongside Miller for four terms. He reached into the box. A nine.

"Well, wouldn't you know it," he said, drawing a chuckle out of Miller. It is a long-standing assumption that the first name on the ballot holds a slight advantage at the polls.

Miller has seen this day come and go many times. The elections fall under his duties for the county. But as a long-running public official he knows how the political battle lines are drawn.

"Normally you will have your incumbents, and maybe a few others, first thing on opening day," Miller said. ""I guess we'll just wait to see how the rest of the month turns out."

The filing deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 28.

Miller said he had a bittersweet feeling Tuesday -- but in a way he's relieved. "No matter when you're running for any office, it's a nervous feeling," he said from his second-floor office in the county administrative building in Jackson.

Once a person announces candidacy, it's a waiting game, Miller said. "You have to wait 30 days to see if there's anyone going to run against you." If no one does, Miller said it's a lot cheaper to campaign. In his seven terms of office, he had opposition in four elections.

In two of the elections, Miller's competition filed in the last five minutes before the deadline, he said. But Miller never had any close races.

When he first ran for county clerk in 1977, his opponent, former sheriff's deputy Zane Hosey, died before the August primary election.

"He was even told he had a clean bill of health the week before it happened," Miller said.

As county clerk, Miller oversees elections in Cape Girardeau County. He has seen big changes regarding elections.

In June 2004, the county introduced optical scan election equipment, which gives voters the opportunity to check their ballot for mistakes and prevents an "over-vote." The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires all counties to replace the punch card voting equipment and have at least one accessible voting machine for individuals with disabilities at every polling location by the 2006 elections.

During his time in office, one statewide recount and two requested recounts occurred.

Sullivan County Clerk Mike Hepler serves as president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks, which Miller headed in 1991. Hepler praised Miller.

"Let's put it this way, Rodney Miller is an institution," Hepler said. "He's an amazing man and always the best for county government. He is one clerk I've always looked up to and will continue to look up to."

Hepler said Miller was instrumental in the conception of the Missouri Association of Counties worker's compensation pool. The pool serves close to 100 counties in the state and provides affordable worker's compensation to county employees.

"We were a county that jumped on board this pool later on, and it saved us a tremendous amount of money," Hepler said.

Miller said he's proud of his service to Cape Girardeau County.

"Not in a bragging way but one that represents sensible progress and doing my very best to serve the citizens of this county," he said. "I still have 10 months left in my term and I intend to do my job and live up to my commitment."

Miller hopes the next clerk is energetic.

"There's always something that you're dealing with and always something going on," he said. "I wish that person all the best that I've experienced while serving as clerk."

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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