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Incumbents win, lose in Crawford County

October 27, 2010
Two incumbent Democrats in Crawford County lost their re-election bids Tuesday night. However, it wasn't all bad news for the party, as the Democratic prosecutor won a second term and the party won held two courthouse seats. In the only other contested county race, Republican Sheriff Tim Wilkerson easily won another four years.

In the evening's closest race, Democrat Bob Kellems, who has served on the county council for about 30 years during two stints, lost the District 3 seat to Republican Steve Bartels by 14 votes, 352 to 348.

"All I can say is he really worked hard," Kellems said of his opponent, who was making his first bid for public office.

Reflecting on his tenure, which began in 1976 (he was defeated in 1980 and later was appointed to complete another member's term), Kellems said he is proud to have been a part of the new judicial complex effort. He said he also is pleased with how the current council works together, regardless of party affiliation, for the good of the county.

"In my earlier years on here, it was political … Now, you have to be one or the other to get on the ballot," but politics don't sway decisions, Kellems said, noting all the members work together as a team.

Former Republican at-large Councilman Daniel Crecelius, who was defeated in his bid for a fourth four-year term two years ago, defeated Larry Bye, a two-term Democratic incumbent, in the District 1 commissioner's race. Crecelius tallied 2,291 votes (59 percent) to Bye's 1,614.

Crecelius said he knew on election night two years ago that he would seek the commissioner's seat. He pointed to "unfinished business," such as efforts to bring a health care facility to the county, as reasons.

"I wanted to pick up back on that and get things started," he said.

Crecelius said he stepped down as the county Republican chair — a position he had held for 16 years — in order to devote the time needed to run for the commissioner's seat. He said the timing for a challenger was right, not only with the nationwide Republican wave but with Bye having already served eight years. The nature of the position makes it difficult for a commissioner to win a third term, he explained.

In the auditor's race, Democrat Ricki Hawkins secured 53 percent of the vote to defeat Republican Thomas (Buck) Atwood Jr., 2016 votes to 1772 votes.

Despite this having been her first campaign, Hawkins is a courthouse veteran. She has served as chief deputy in the Auditor's Office for the past eight years. Before that, she worked part-time in the Treasurer's Office for two years and then full-time for eight years in the Clerk's Office.

"I would like to thank Buck," Hawkins said. "I think he did a good job and ran a good, clean race."

While disappointed, Atwood said he was pleased with his effort.

"I did make them earn it," he said, adding he likely will run again. "I'm not going to give up that easy."

The prosecutor's race was one of the most watched contests in Crawford County on election night. Democrat incumbent Cheryl Hillenburg and Republican Lester Shelton, in a rematch from 2006, began their campaigns almost as soon as the primary elections were over and kept up the pace until the last day.

Although the race was tight for a while, and Shelton actually garnered more votes in a few precincts, Hillenburg pulled noticeably ahead about halfway through the evening and never looked back, garnering 57 percent of the vote to win 2,274 to 1,690,

"I'm really excited and proud to get another opportunity to serve Crawford County as prosecutor," Hillenburg said. "I was a little nervous going into this election. There are some people who don't want their family members to be held accountable, so we had some working against us. But we worked really hard, and there's a lot of good people out there, too. A lot of people have said they want us to continue doing what we've been doing and be fair. We're going to continue our efforts on child support collections. Rhonda (Haley) has done so well at that.

"And I'm working on a grant application to get funding for some undercover-type work, and I want to continue to work closely with the police. I now have a chance to do more to make a difference in Crawford County. My husband (Stan Pennington) worked so hard and never gave up. And I thank God for this outcome."

The sheriff's race, one of the most talked about in the county, started off with incumbent Tim Wilkerson, a Republican, a few votes ahead. There were a few precincts where his opponent, Democrat Larry (Moose) Allen, closed the gap, but it was Wilkerson's night and he kept a lead that increased as the night wore on. By the time there were only four or five precincts left to report in, it was obvious that Wilkerson would be spending four more years as Crawford County sheriff.

The election proved to be a nail-biter early on in the race for Crawford County clerk, with the votes showing Democrat Edna Brown ahead, but slightly. As the evening wore on, it became clear that Megan Faith, Brown's opponent, was going to fall short in her attempt to capture the office for Republicans. By the time the last few precincts reported in, Brown, the current Crawford County treasurer, was being congratulated by friends and family.

"I'm just ecstatic," Brown said. "I'm really happy. I was off due to surgery for a while and didn't have a chance to do a lot of campaigning. But we worked as hard as we could, and it paid off tonight. I'm really looking forward to working with the staff in the clerk's office and serving the county in that position. I had a lot of people supporting me and I appreciate every single vote."

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