Newcomer to be clerk; incumbent wins presiding commissioner race

Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Kara Clark

A political newcomer upset a 20-year fixture on the area political scene Tuesday to win the Republican nomination for Cape Girardeau County clerk.

Kara Clark, a Cape Girardeau native who returned home two years ago to help care for her ill father, easily won her first election by defeating Jackson Mayor Paul Sander. Clark received 62 percent of the vote to Sander's 38 percent, winning 4,901 to 3,016.

In the other contested Republican primary, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones cruised to an easy victory over political novice Tom Farrow. Jones received 63 percent of the vote, or 4,708 votes, to Farrow's 37 percent, or 2,739 votes.

The victory, not the margin, is what is important, Jones said. "My objective is to get one more vote than my opponent."

Clark, who works as sales director for the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, is virtually assured of winning the clerk's job. No Democrat has filed, and the only avenue open to a potential opponent in the November election would be a write-in campaign.

Clark, 35, will replace Democrat Rodney Miller, who is retiring after 28 years in the post.

"I am a lot overwhelmed right now," Clark said as she celebrated with supporters at the Heartland Banquet Hall in Jackson. "I cannot believe the numbers."

Sander lost almost every precinct in the county despite a long personal and family history of involvement in county politics. He won a seat on the Jackson Board of Aldermen 20 years ago, and has been Jackson mayor since 1993. Sander's father was a county commissioner and his grandfather was Jackson mayor.

The race pitted political heavyweights from county and municipal governments who lined up behind each candidate. Clark won with help from current county officeholders, including Collector Diane Diebold, Sheriff John Jordan and Treasurer Roger Hudson.

Sander's supporters included current Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson, former mayor Al Spradling III and Jackson Mayor Pro Tem Kerry Hoffman.

At the banquet hall, the celebration started early. By the time the first half-dozen precincts had reported, Clark had built a lead of nearly 800 votes, and the gap just kept widening.

Supporters gave her hugs and cheers as the beaming Clark thanked them. Clark, a former executive with Southwest Airlines, said winning by a landslide never entered her mind when she filed for the job.

"I wasn't thinking that far ahead," she said. "You cannot think what it is like until you are in it. It is the people who were behind me and working for me that did it."

Sander said prior to Tuesday that he would await election returns at his home. Calls to his home and mobile telephone were not returned.

Sander has said he will not seek another term as mayor of Jackson. His current term expires in April.

The big-name support for each candidate seemed to mean less to voters than personal ties or pitches from the candidates.

For Hughes and Doris Davault of Jackson, a vote for Sander was a vote for someone they had in classes when they taught school. "I had him as a student back in high school, and he is a fine man," Doris Davault said after voting at the county courthouse in Jackson.

James R. Trentham, who moved to the Gordonville area about 10 years ago, said he, too, chose Sander because of personal connections. "I have known him since we moved down here, and he is doing a good job."

Those personal ties, and an extensive door-to-door effort, weren't enough to build on Sander's past success.

Both candidates spent hours walking through neighborhoods in retail politicking, trying to gather one vote at a time. They also paid for extensive radio and newspaper advertising campaigns, with virtually the same amount of money available to both candidates.

But the personal ties that brought supporters to Clark seem to have been more extensive.

A Clark supporter voting at the Arena Building in Cape Girardeau cited personal friendship as decisive. "We know the family, and we know she will do a good job," said Mary Gerlach.

While Merl Mercer said he hasn't met Clark personally, friends convinced him she was a good choice.

"Honesty and integrity keep coming up," he said. "She is an honest individual. We vote our faith. We are Christian."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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