What a contrast. While Columbia County's veteran sheriff won a lopsided race against a younger, first-time challenger, the veteran sheriff in the county next door was losing a lopsided race against a younger, first-time challenger.
Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle easily beat Lewis Blanchard Tuesday, which everyone with a pulse knows by now. Blanchard fully understands that voters didn't want to trade a known sheriff in a safe community for a young challenger promising to shake things up.
After short vacations, Blanchard will go back to work at Executive Marketing, and Whittle will keep running Columbia County's top-flight law enforcement agency.
Next door in Lincoln County, though, it's a different story. Edwin Bentley has been sheriff for two decades, and was widely expected to keep the job until retirement.
But something's changed in our smaller neighboring community since Bentley first was elected: While growth there has been slow, it has steadily trended toward a younger, better-off crowd of newcomers migrating outward from Augusta in search of wide-open spaces and a relaxed lifestyle.
The man who took on Bentley was no newcomer to the community; Gerald Lawson graduated in 1973 from Lincoln County High School. But he's spent plenty of time outside the county since then, and brought the experience back home.
Lawson is a retired lieutenant colonel who served as a civilian in Iraq. His resume bulges with law enforcement experience, and his academic credentials include a master's in public administration.
Promising commitment and professionalism, Lawson swept aside Bentley with 61 percent of the vote, and joined the roll of newcomers making a difference in Lincoln County.
Lawson stopped by the office a couple of months ago just to say hello. It's good we got the introductions taken care of, since he's likely to see plenty of our folks moving his way in years to come.
Some of them may bring new ideas, too -- so he'd better not get too comfortable.
Lawson still has one challenge left, however: While Columbia County is a bedrock Republican community, Lincoln County is still mostly Democratic. Lawson beat Bentley in the Demo-cratic primary, and in November will face a challenge from Republican Leon Crook, who has run for the office three times before.
Stuck with losers
Here at home, the line of the week came from Lewis Blanchard's campaign manager, Candi Sprague, who stuck around at the Govern-ment Complex Tuesday night until the last vote was counted.
In the parking lot, the veteran political operative waved her hand across her car's rear bumper. Plastered across the vehicle were decals touting Blanchard, Herman Cain and Joey Brush.
"Look at this!" Sprague said, in mock exasperation. "Three losers!"
Praise for elections staff
The staff of the Board of Elections, and all the poll workers who run the county's precincts, did a wonderful job with Tuesday's election -- as they always do.
Electronic voting has helped speed things up, but keeping the polls open for 12 hours still makes for some awfully long days. Those days can seem even longer when, as with Tuesday's election, they had to deal with a handful of irate voters who couldn't understand why they weren't allowed to vote in the Democratic primary and vote for sheriff, too. Some of these ignorant folks were downright rude.
The elections workers love the job, though, and provide a tremendous service to the community. More of them are needed, especially for the November General Election. (It's a paid position, by the way.) Call Deborah Marshall at 868-3355 if you're interested.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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