No Change Is The Only Constant: Incumbents All Returned

June 10, 2020

The Hug of Defeat: Jerry Henegar (right) ended Tuesday night 30 votes short of unseating District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff, pictured here clasping him in an un-socially distant embrace. Seated is John Deffenbaugh, who looks good to regain the Dist. 1 Georgia statehouse seat he lost two years, though he must face a runoff with the next-highest vote winner.


It was a bitter night for challengers Tuesday as returns in the June 9 primary election slowly chugged in to show Dade had once again rejected change and allowed the incumbents to keep their county commission seats.


County Commission Executive Chairman Ted Rumley will remain at the head of the local government for a fourth term after besting challenger Nathan Wooten 2123 to 1421. District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford also won easily over his two challengers, 2020 to Jeremy Dyer's 1137 and Randy Stone's 327.


The District 3 commission seat race was much tighter, with Jerry Henegar coming tantalizingly close to ousting Robert Goff--the final numbers were 1747 to 1717.


The one contested board of education seat in Dade, the District 5 or at-large position, seemed to have a clear winner, Dr. Jayne Griffin, who took 1294 votes to Patrick Hickey's 644 and Brooke Wilson's 1078. But Dade's rule is that there must be a runoff if one candidate has not taken 50 percent of the vote plus one, so Dr. Griffin must face Ms. Wilson in a runoff election, the date of which will be announced later.


Executive Chairman Rumley said after the final results were in that he hadn't been nervous about his chances. This wasn't his first rodeo, he pointed out; including his stint as district commissioner, he'd been here 16 years. "If people are going to vote for me, they're going to vote for me. If not, what are you going to do?" he said.


But he acknowledged: "This was probably the most uncertain election I've ever been through."


Jerry Henegar, visibly stung by his narrow loss in the District 3 race, said, "Dade County people spoke. I guess they're happy with what they've got." As to whether he'd try again, Henegar would not commit further than a terse, "We'll see." 


The District 3 seat will not be back up for grabs again until 2024. "Four years is a pretty good long time," said Henegar. 


As for the state-level races The Planet has been following, The Planet is unable to obtain final statewide numbers just yet but Colton Moore took Dade easily 2202 to incumbent Georgia Jeff Mullis's 1139 and Todd Noblitt's 232 for the 53rd District seat in the Georgia Senate, but The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported this morning Sen. Mullis had managed to hold on to his seat with 54.67 percent of the vote.


The Freep also reported  District 1 Georgia statehouse candidate John Deffenbaugh will face a runoff with Mike Cameron--they took 42 percent and 37 percent of the vote, respectively. Deffenbaugh had 1358 votes in Dade to Cameron's 1177. A third candidate, Vikki Mills, took 785 votes in Dade.


All of the candidates named above, for both state and county offices, are running as Republicans.


Turnout was so-so in Dade, 4193 out of 12,164 registered voters, or about 34 percent. That's about a third, which is not stellar, but The Planet has reported much worse.


If it sounds as though Dade voters are not interested, in this strange and blighted year, in changing leadership, they do anyway seem eager to shuck off the county's lingering blue laws. They voted overwhelmingly to approve Sunday sales of alcohol in the county.


The referendum question about alcohol was in two parts--one asking whether the law should be changed to allow package sales of alcohol on Sunday, the other to allow liquor by the drink in restaurants. For package sales, the vote was 2538 yes to 1535 no, or 62 percent to 38 percent; liquor by the drink 2468 yes to 1603 no, or 61 percent to 39 percent.


County officials no doubt heaved a mighty sigh of relief as the renewal referendum for SPLOST (special purchase local option sales tax) also passed handily, 2401 yes to 1383 no. The county is heavily dependent on the one-penny sales tax for buying everything from police cruisers to computer software. 


Tuesday's was a slow and awkward election process across Georgia, drawn out as poll officials adjusted to the state's new voting machines and new voting process. Results from the outlying precincts were slow coming in, explained Dade Elections Supervisor Lowanna Vaughan, because the machinery poll officials had to bring in was

large enough that the elections board had rented a moving truck to go around the county picking them up. The bad news was that Dade results weren't all in until after 10 p.m. The good news was that once one precinct's returns were in, the rest followed pretty chop-chop as the equipment was unloaded en masse.


The worse news, for the state races, is that bigger counties with more voters were even slower to report, which accounts for any remaining ambiguity in those tallies.


Otherwise, those honoring the current COVID-19 social-distancing rules would have been shocked to see the Dade Board of Elections office and Administration Building lobby as sardine-packed as always on election night, with standers shoulder to shoulder, sitters butt to butt on the one available bench, and affectionate hugs and emotional clasps still very much a part of the democratic process (though somehow the embracing throngs were able to resist The Planet's own charms).


Dade County Deputy Clerk Carey Anderson said social distancing had been maintained at the county Administration Building before election night attendance had broken down the rules.

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