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November 08. 2006 1:00PM

Kepley, three incumbents give board of commissioners familiar look

The Dispatch

When the polls opened Tuesday morning, five of the seven seats on the Davidson County Board of Commissioners were up in the air.

By the time they closed 13 hours later, the make-up of the current board was left mostly the same.

Davidson County voters returned three incumbents and one former commissioner to the board in the multi-seat plurality contest. Incumbent Democrat Max Walser lead the field of eight candidates with 17,229 votes (15 percent). Following closely with 16,519 votes (14 percent) was former three-term commissioner Billy Joe Kepley, who will return to the seat he lost by only five votes in the Republican Primary in 2004. Rounding out the field were incumbent Republicans Don Truell, with 15,795 votes, and Sam Watford, with 15,672 votes (14 percent each).

Former commissioner Kenny Moore became the lone Republican contender edged out of a seat, carrying a strong 15,013 votes (13 percent). He was trailed by three Democrats, Randall Lanier, with 13,032 (11 percent), Watson Gregg with 12,009 (10 percent) and Don Swink with 10,598.

In the head-to-head race to fill the unexpired term of former commissioner Fred C. Sink, Republican Larry Allen bested his Democratic opponent, retired educator Loretta Martin, with a total of 15,329 votes (52 percent) to her 14,015 (48 percent).

“This just proves a country boy can survive,” said Allen, smiling broadly outside the Republican gathering at the J. Smith Young YMCA after the final precincts reported their totals. He said his first priorities in his coming term will be “to bring jobs to this county and support tourism.”

Allen, who was appointed earlier this year to fill former commissioner Fred Sink’s seat through the end of 2006, is a former employee of Goodwill Industries. The Ohio native started with that organization as a van driver three years ago, and would later go on to teach job-seeking skills in the classroom.

Allen has proudly campaigned under the banner of conservative values, touting the head-to-head race with his opponent as a choice between conservatism and liberalism. He finished fifth in the May GOP commissioner primary. The Republican Party Executive Committee picked him to replace Sink when an appeals court upheld Sink’s felony conviction for having a county employee fix a toilet at his home.

He expressed his thanks to those who turned out in support of his candidacy this time around.

“I’m overwhelmed at the support, and so appreciative,” he said.

Kepley, a Welcome resident, is a former engineer, lifelong photographer and staunch conservationist. Additionally, Kepley has often touted himself as the first man to note Davidson County’s potential as a tourist destination.

Kepley, who served on the board for 14 years, has said the commissioners should focus more on lending aid to small businesses in the county, saying those businesses, more than large industry, are crucial to Davidson’s economy.

Kepley on Tuesday night said he was looking forward to “picking up where I left off” in 2004, focusing his efforts on employee training and tourism, as well as securing money to fund school construction.

“There’s plenty to do,” he said.

Former Thomasville mayor and one-term incumbent commissioner Truell said his reelection exceeded even his expectations.

“I think (voters) know that we try to do the best we can,” he said. His campaign was among several focused on maintaining a low tax base, a position he maintains is of paramount importance to the large portion of Davidson County citizens living on fixed incomes.

Truell has often talked about the challenge of balancing that reality with the recently passed $71.6 million school bond. Though the local economy is still struggling, Truell frequently points to the fact that the jobs that have been lost to layoffs and factory closings have been added back since he took office four years ago.

Republican incumbent Watford could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

He owns a construction company in Thomasville and spoke out often in his campaign against continued borrowing, saying he preferred to work primarily within the confines of the commissioners’ annual budget. He has often cited his experience in utility construction as evidence that he understands construction and sewer projects more clearly than most of the candidates.

The self-described “common-sense Republican” has pointed to once and future colleague Kepley as a mentor.

Walser, a retired Davidson County Schools superintendent, will again be the lone representative for the Democratic Party on the board of commissioners. This marks the second consecutive election in which he has led the field of candidates.

“For me, it’s a shallow victory,” he said, lamenting his party’s strong but ultimately insufficient showing at the polls. He said it all comes back to the sheer number of registered Republicans in Davidson County, who dwarf the number of Democratic voters, especially in northern Davidson County.

“We clearly have been painted with the same brush in Davidson County as the national Democratic Party, and that’s a shame,” he said.

Glen Baity can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or glen.baity@the-dispatch.com.

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