published Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Jackson County Commission gains its first Republicans

JACKSON COMMISSION 2012

Elections on Nov. 6 made history in Jackson County, Ala., where voters for the first time elected Republicans to the County Commission.

• District 1 Tim Guffey (R) defeated Jonathan Colvin (D) 51 percent to 49

• District 2 Jason Venable (R) defeated Sheila Cornelison (D) 54 percent to 46

• District 3 Dennis Miller (D) defeated Philip Thompson (R) 53 percent to 47

• District 4 Stacy Ledwell (D) defeated Mike Sisk (R) 55 percent to 45

• Chairman Matthew Hodges (D) defeated Chris Woods (R) 60 percent to 40

Source: Alabama secretary of state

For the first time since Reconstruction, Jackson County, Ala., has Republican members on its County Commission.

"It's always been Democrat," said Bill Wheeler, member of the county Board of Registrars, the body that oversees local elections.

But after the commission's four new members and chairman are sworn in today, the five-person panel will have two Republicans and three Democrats for the first time in county history.

The commission change is the second rightward tilt in Jackson County elections in the last two years. Republican Shadrick McGill was elected to the state Senate District 8 seat in 2010, according to Wheeler.

Jackson County Administrator Sandra Erickson, who was hired and voices no political leanings, said Republicans Tim Guffey and Jason Venable might add a new political flavor to the mix, but she hopes the commission keeps its focus on the county.

"I think it was pretty much a shock for people," Erickson said of the vote outcome.

When the ballots were counted, Republicans Tim Guffey and Jason Venable took the District 1 and 2 seats, respectively, while Democrats Dennis Miller and Stacy Ledwell defeated their GOP challengers for seats in Districts 3 and 4. Democrat Matthew Hodges beat his Republican foe for commission chairman, maintaining Democratic dominance on the panel, records show.

The four commission newcomers said party affiliations won't figure into decision-making.

"The guys that got elected, even on the Democrat side, are conservative," Guffey said.

"I really believe we'll work together," he said. "I'm excited about this. It's going to be good."

Venable said he'll work with his Democratic counterparts because cooperation is the only way to get things done.

"If you live in Jackson County, you've got to have friends that are Democrats if you've got friends," Venable laughed. "It's easier to find a parking space on Black Friday at Walmart than it is to find a Republican in Jackson County."

Miller also foresees a cooperative atmosphere.

"We all decided that first and foremost we're all Jackson Countians and party comes next," he said. "Partisanship stopped the day of the election for me."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at facebook.com/ben.benton1 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/BenBenton.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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