Scott County GOP hopes to defy past

Saturday, October 25, 2008

If Scott County voters elect even one Republican on Nov. 4, it would buck a long-standing tradition that has seen few GOP candidates defeat Democrats on the county level.

"While voters in the county tend to vote more Republican in state and national races, it's puzzling why they vote Democrat on the local level," said Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn, who is running unopposed for his seat in the 1st District. "Most everyone who is running in both parties are conservative. Many of the offices here don't deal with some of the issues that candidates on the state and national level deal with, such as abortion."

Scott County Republican Committee secretary Roger Record believes all three candidates from his party have a chance to win the election.

"To be elected in a two-party race here in Scott County, the perception is you have to be Democrat," Record said. "There are conservative Democratic candidates out there. But the reason many have won in the past is that there has been one choice on the ballot, and that's been Democrat."

Democrat Donnie Kiefer will face Republican Ron McCormick in the 2nd District commission race. McCormick, of Scott City, was appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt in 2006 after Jamie Burger was elected presiding commissioner in the middle of his term as Second District commissioner.

McCormick is the county's first Republican commissioner since Ralph Boyer, who was appointed by Gov. John Ashcroft to fill a vacancy in 1989. Boyer was defeated the next year by a Democrat in his re-election bid. If McCormick wins, he would be the first Republican commissioner to win election since 1920.

But McCormick hopes his record and relationship with people in his district can overcome party affiliation in a county with a Democratic party stronghold. Since April, McCormick has been campaigning through door-to-door visits with voters in an attempt to break that cycle.

"I'm hoping to change the mindset of people," McCormick said. "The more people I see face to face, the better chances that I might make a personal impact. I hope to convince them it's not the party but the man doing the job who makes the difference."

Economic factor

Like other counties in the U.S., the economy will factor into the election, including the possible renewal of a county half-cent law enforcement sales tax that expired Sept. 30. Revenue generated from the tax income funded the construction of a jail and law enforcement expenses.

In January, county officials will face their first fiscal year without the $1.7 million the tax brought in to fund those expenses. The commissioners may put the issue before voters on the February ballot.

McCormick supports the measure, while Kiefer is not fully committed to voting yes on the issue.

"The revenue lost from the tax hurts the county," Kiefer said. "Depending on if I'm elected and getting their input, that will determine how much I will support it. Right now, I'd like to say I'd support it but depends on the feedback."

Sheriff Rick Walter, a Democrat, had once opposed the issue but if a property tax abatement is added in the ballot language, he said he may reconsider. His opponent, Republican Wes Drury, believes additional taxes should not be imposed until everyone in the county "has sharpened their pencils and tightened their belts."

In the race for county coroner, both Democrat incumbent Scott Amick and Republican Charles Huey support the initiative.

Sheriff's race

In the sheriff's race, Walter will face Drury for the second consecutive time. In 2004 Walter defeated Drury by nearly 1,200 votes. That was the same year when incumbent Democrat Bill Ferrell did not file for re-election as the county's sheriff, a position he held for 28 years.

While fighting crime is one part of the job, Walter said saving the county money is another aspect of his occupation.

"Financial times are hard, and it's difficult for law enforcement to bring in money, which forces us to save where we can," Walter said. "We do that through making inmates pay for their telephone calls and medical care they receive while in jail. If we receive federal inmates, we can make 15 to 20 dollars a day from the difference the federal government pays us."

Drury's law enforcement experience includes the sheriff's department and his current position as criminal investigator for the county prosecuting attorney's office. He said an increasing illegal drug manufacturing and usage concerns him the most.

"We need to work as a team with other agencies to best assure our children, grandchildren and loved ones are not victimized by the dealers and users of illegal drugs," he said.

Coroner's contest

Amick has served as county coroner for 24 years. He also is embalmer and funeral director at Amick-Burnett Funeral Chapels in Benton, Chaffee, Oran and Scott City.

He has been president of the Missouri Coroners and Medical Examiners Association and has served on the association's ethics committee since he left the office of president in 1989.

Huey is a junior at Southeast Missouri State University and owner of Huey's Taxi Co. that serves Chaffee. He has studied under a Missouri doctor of pathology in the field of forensic pathology and forensic sciences. Huey would not identify the physician because he said he was from an opposing party.

While he said he admires his intentions, Amick questions Huey's age and experience, contending that the office requires someone with the proper credentials to perform the job.

"Most coroners are funeral home directors since the majority of them aren't provided holding coolers by the county," Amick said. "I wonder where my opponent would be able to store bodies since he doesn't have a funeral home. I hope the county does provide funding for the office so we can have our own holding cooler and provide other needs to do the job."

While he lacks experience as coroner, Huey said Amick was 27 years old when he assumed his current role. Huey is 24.

"So I believe age has nothing to do with it," Huey said. "I've studied under a great doctor with his experience in forensics and have an experienced former New Jersey Highway State patrolman to be my chief assistant if I'm elected. I believe the coroner has to be compassionate and my No. 1 priority will be to treat the deceased family members as if they were my own."


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