The ballot for Jackson County Sheriff contained a full spate of candidates vying for the seat that came open earlier this year when longtime sheriff Jimmy Ashe announced he would not be seeking re-election. During the primary election held earlier this month, voters had three Republican candidates and six Democratic candidates from which to chose.
While the Democratic candidate was decided on election night with Chip Hall, the Republican election was too close to call. Curtis Lambert received 424 votes, more than both Mary Rock and Jimmy Hodgins, but did not receive the 40 percent needed to secure his place on the November ballot, meaning either of the other two candidates could request a runoff. Rock and Hodgins were separated by a single vote, with Rock receiving 375 and Hodgins receiving 376.
Rock requested that Jackson County Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl conduct a recount before the final totals were announced. After the recount the numbers stayed the same, sending Hodgins to face Lambert in a primary runoff.
The primary runoff will be held on July 15, at the request of Hodgins. According to Lovedahl, the primary runoff will cost taxpayers a hefty chunk of change. “The cost is an estimate, but just under half the cost of a regular primary, so between $20-$35,000,” said Lovedahl. “You have the same process and cost as a regular election, just not on as big a scale. For example, the number of precinct workers can be smaller, not operate all the one stop sites and the number of ordered paper ballots can be trimmed from the first election while the office is still in compliance with election laws. The office and board tries to hold the cost down as much as possible and still provide the same service and quality of election.”
Heading into the second primary, Hodgins plans to keep his focus the same as before. “My strategy going into the runoff is no different than it was the whole campaign,” said Hodgins. “I plan to advertise, knock on people's doors, make phone calls, and simply get my message out to the citizens of Jackson County so they can make the right choice for the Republican candidate for Sheriff of Jackson County on July 15. One thing I will do more intensely this time is encourage my supporters to go to the polls and vote.”
Hodgins, a Macon County native, has lived in Jackson County for the last 41 years. Although he has no law enforcement experience, Hodgins does have 41 years running a successful logging business.
“The greatest difference between myself and Mr. Lambert, I believe, is our work ethic,” he said. “Throughout this campaign I have advertised through billboards, yard signs, business cards, and face to face campaigning in the communities. While I have seen only one yard sign and no billboards from my opponent. I believe you will work as hard to be elected as you will once your sworn in to the office. I, and my supporters, worked the polls everyday of early voting and on May 6. Mr. Lambert was invisible during the whole voting process. I believe I have a stronger desire to serve the citizens of Jackson County as their sheriff than Mr. Lambert does. I have nothing to hide from the voters of Jackson County; my past and present is open. While Mr. Lambert was released from the Sylva Police Department where he was sworn to serve and protect and refuses to release the cause of his departure. We do not need secrets in this campaign.”
The winner of the July 15 race will head to the general election in November to face Chip Hall. While Hodgins is focusing on July, he believes he and Hall differ greatly as well. “My focus at this time is on the runoff with Mr. Lambert,” said Hodgins. “However, one of the differences between myself and Mr. Hall, is that he has worked at the Sheriff’s Office for 25 years and in his ads, he asked what he can do for the citizens. I have never worked in the Sheriff’s Office and I know what the citizens of Jackson County want from their Sheriff.”
“I would like to encourage all the Republican and Independent voters of Jackson County to go to the polls and vote on July 15,” said Hodgins. “All three Republican candidates combined got only 1175 votes in the primary. While the second place candidate on the Democratic sheriff ballot received 1268 votes. We need our voters to come out and support their Republican candidates at the polls.”
Now that his opponent is confirmed, Lambert is turning his focus to the second runoff in hopes of making the ballot in November. “I will approach the 'runoff' in the same manner as the primary,” said Lambert. “It is time for a new sheriff that has both law enforcement and business experience and will work for all the citizens of Jackson County. The people of Jackson County expect and deserve a sheriff who will be accessible to the public and to the law enforcement needs of the people. I will be that sheriff.”
Lambert noted the difference between himself on Hodgins as being Lambert’s experience in law enforcement. “There are several differences between Mr. Hodgins and myself, at the foremost, is law enforcement experience. I have been a sworn officer for 19 years,” he said. “In today’s society experience in the field you are pursuing is critical.”
With just a little more than a month until the second primary, Lambert hopes to get his message out to voters.
“Now is the time for a sheriff who is concerned about safe schools for our children, crime prevention, professionalism and all the citizens of Jackson County,” said Lambert. “I have the personal qualities that will raise the professionalism of the sheriff’s office. I will be an effective leader and manager and I have the law enforcement experience to understand what each deputy faces every day. As a lifelong resident of Jackson County, I understand the concerns of the people. I will work with other law enforcement agencies and the court system to facilitate improvements and to ensure a safe environment for all our citizens. I will create a citizens academy which will allow citizens along with the media an inside look at the sheriff’s office. I will lead the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in the direction that all citizens can be proud.”