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At top of ballot, it's no contest

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GREENFIELD –— It’s a good time to be a Republican: Some of Hancock County’s biggest races in November have already been decided by voters.

The big winners of May’s primary election will remain unopposed for the Nov. 4 election. The deadline for major parties to fill openings on the fall ballot was Monday, and no Democrats filed for the major offices.

Sheriff Mike Shepherd; prosecutor candidate Brent Eaton; and Marc Huber, who is running for county commissioner, are unopposed.

The rest of the ballot will be dominated by Republicans as well: Of the dozen countywide races, only three county council races will be contested.

Hancock County Republican chairwoman Janice Silvey said she believes the party has fielded excellent candidates for the general election, and that might explain why Democrats didn’t challenge them. That’s a good thing for Republicans, she said, but perhaps a double-edged sword for voters.

“I suppose the public would like to be able to have a choice,” she added.

Silvey said it’s not uncommon to see Republicans dominate the ballot. But it’s unusual for all the top races to be unopposed.

The county Democrats on Monday announced their slate of candidates, shortly after the noon deadline for filing was complete. Democrats running for office in November include: Earl Smith for County Hancock Council District 1; Michael Tucker for county council District 3; and Mike Merlau for county council District 4.

Also on the ballot will be Don Waymire for Buck Creek Township trustee; Brandon Perry for Vernon Township trustee; Judy Brown for Jackson Township Advisory Board; and Matthew Matlock for Blue River Township Advisory Board.

Hancock County Democratic Party chairman Phil Hunt said he hopes voters will take the opportunity to meet the candidates, study their position on the issues and vote to return a balance of power to the county council.

“This county is a one-party county, basically,” Hunt said. “People get apathetic sometimes when they don’t have competition. That’s been some of the problems with past issues with officeholders.”

To add more candidates to the ballot requires a strong party to reaches out to the people, Silvey said.

Hunt believes disappointment in the lack of choices could eventually spur stronger local support and more candidates. He’s hoping voters express that sentiment when they vote in the council races.

“There’s a lot of people dissatisfied with the incumbents; that’s why they were encouraged to run, so we’ll see if people vote their feelings or not,” Hunt said. “We’ve probably got a good a chance this year as any.”

Hunt said the party wanted to avoid simply putting a name on the ballot just to have one there. That could lead to a candidate being elected who is not qualified.

“We’re not going to put names on the ballot just to have names,” Hunt said. “We want quality people. Some of the high-profile offices – we just didn’t have anybody step forward. People want a choice. Hopefully next election, we’ll get a few more.”

Both Silvey and Hunt said more choices will require more involvement from the citizens. Hunt believes as the landscape in Hancock County changes, there is a possibility for a more viable Democratic Party, and more people of all political persuasions to run for office.

“I think some of it is demographics, but those are changing as people move out here from the city. I think it’s changing. It takes time. I’m old enough to remember when the courthouse was ruled by Democrats. It runs in cycles,” Hunt said.

Eaton, who defeated incumbent Michael Griffin in the May primary,  said voters and candidates recognize the power of the GOP primary.

 “Hancock County has been predominantly a Republican county for a long time. A lot of people here know that, and that’s why you see so many contested races in the primary,” he said.

Shepherd and Eaton plan to campaign this fall, even if it is in a diminished capacity.

“I still will get some signs out when it gets close to time,” Shepherd said. “But we won’t have to put in the same time and money.”

Added Eaton: “You want to make sure you’re out and seen.”

While being the lone sheriff candidate on the ballot in November is a positive thing for Shepherd, he was not sure it is the best option for voters. However, in a strongly Republican county such as Hancock, perhaps the people have already spoken.

“The voters might be getting what they would have wanted for the most part anyway,” he said.

Now that the candidates are slated for November, Eaton said he finds some comfort in the knowledge that another long, difficult campaign is not on the horizon.

“It’s encouraging,” he said. “I hope to be able to run the office in such a way that people across the spectrum have confidence in you.”



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