Lanier wins superintendent, Maxwell clerk

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The long-road to the 2020 general election ended Tuesday night, with a few surprises and few predictable results and the rest in-between.

Republican Steve Lanier swept to victory in the superintendent of schools race, downing incumbent Democrat Traci Moses Yoder by a nearly 3 to 1 margin.

In the clerk of courts race, Michele Maxwell narrowly edged Erin Griffith, gaining about 51.5 percent of the vote, to Griffith's 48.5 percent.

In the tax collector race, incumbent Republican Rick Watson squeaked by challenger Danny Gay, winning 50.4 percent of the countywide vote.

Incumbent Republican sheriff AJ Smith tallied the highest number of votes of any candidate, including President Trump, amassing more than 82 percent of the ballots to 18 percent for challenger Democrat Carl Whaley,

In the race for county commission District 3, incumbent Democrat Noah Lockley Jr. held on to his seat, with 61.5 percent of the vote, to challenger Brett Gormley's 38.5 percent.

In the county commission District 5 race, challenger Jessica Varnes Ward, with 40.3 percent of the vote, ousted incumbent William Massey, who tallied 32.7 percent of the vote. Republican Madeline Navarez ran third, with 27 percent of the vote.

A native son, and a retired Navy commander, Lanier, a newcomer to politics, tallied 4,982 votes, nearly three times the total for Yoder, who gathered 1,725, giving him a strong show of community support he can leverage with this office, which he will be sworn into Nov. 17.

“I was very pleased with it,” he said Wednesday morning, following a quiet night with his family. “People want change, they want a new direction. They’re not happy with the number of students who have left and the grades declining and the teachers who have left.

“This is no disrespect to Ms. Yoder but you have to listen to people,” he said. “If we’re going to compete with counties like Gulf and Wakulla to keep our students, we have to do a better job and that’s what I intend to do.

“I try to get people to work together, I will never turn anybody away,” Lanier said. “I’m an open book.”

Also being sworn in Nov. 17 will be two new board members, Carrabelle’s Jared Mock, who faced no opposition in his bid to replace Carl Whaley, and Eastpoint’s Melonie Inzetta, who defeated Tara Klink in August balloting.

Lanier has announced plans to step down from his post as head of the Apalachicola Housing Authority. He said ads have been placed for his replacement, with the application deadline Nov. 19, with his successor to be selected by the authority’s board of directors.

With 5,583 votes, the newly re-elected sheriff had nearly 1,000 more than President Trump, who still commanded 68 percent of the county votes against challenger Joe Biden.

“I guess it’s because I didn’t talk as much as him,” joked Smith.

“I think it said people like the job I’ve been doing, they like how we’re protecting the public and serving the community,” he said. “And the initiatives we’re doing, they like it.”

He said a top priority of his, in addition to helping get the drug rehab center up and running, is working with county commissioners within his 2020-21 budget to see about raising staff salaries, which he argued during the campaign are lagging behind neighboring counties.

“We’re going to provide a high level of service, making them feel safe and making it safer for our kids,” Smith said. “We’re seeing a lot of craziness in our country and we want to keep our community safe.”

Watson, whose 45-vote margin of victory was just over the one-half-of 1 percent threshold that could have led to Gay asking for a recount, said he was “thrilled to death” to be returned to office.

“People told me it would be close,” he said. “I did not know how close it would be.

“My opponent ran a very positive campaign, I’m very happy it was a clean race,” Watson said. “I appreciate that from Danny and look forward to another four years.”

He said a top priority will be overseeing the adoption of a new computer system for driver licenses, as well as a new software for property tax collection.

“The system is over 20 years old and it’s due for a major upgrade,” he said. “That’s what’s going to be my focus for the next several months.”

Maxwell, who defeated Griffith by 184 votes, was overjoyed Tuesday night. “I’m still trying to process it,” she said. “I’m very excited. I have a lot of respect for my opponent; she’s a great person.

“I’m really still in shock,” said Maxwell, 47. “I’m excited to get to work and work hard for Franklin County. I love assisting the public and love Franklin County.”

She said she hopes to talk with Griffith in the days ahead about staying on with the finance office. Griffith said during the campaign that if she failed in her bid, she would move on to a career in the private sector.

“I wish she would stay,” said Maxwell. “I’m going to try to talk to her and see.”

Ward, 41, a newcomer to politics, said she was “extremely surprised” at her victory in the three-person race.

“Words can’t express how surprised I was,” she said. “Very shocked and very elated.

“When I first started this bid, God put it on my heart to run,” Ward said. “I decided to do it and went into it with an open mind and an open heart.”

She said she “covered a lot of ground out campaigning,” including speaking with people who didn’t reside in the district.

“I feel like they’re still Franklin County citizens,” Ward said. “I heard their concerns, their questions and their comments.

“Now the work really begins,” she said, taking a break from a Tuesday night party at Lynn’s Quality Oysters in Eastpoint. “I want to be a good commissioner and hopefully make a difference.”

Lockley captured 718 votes to Gormley’s 448, for the victory, during a campaign in which he was outspent greatlky by his opponent.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I had been talking to the people and they was telling me they were going to vote for me and I trust my people.

“He had a lot of people backing him, I know that,” said Lockley. “People were mad about different things and when they get mad they say ‘We’ll get rid of you.” That’s the attitude they get.

“But we got to go by the law,” he said.

“A lot of them were upset about the hospital. But we didn’t get the chance to vote on that,” said Lockley, referring to the fact that Ascension Sacred Heart formally withdrew its offer just prior to the vote to go with a deal with Alliant to manage Weems Memorial Hospital.”

Lockley, who is age 69, made news Tuesday by announcing that he plans to make this his last term.

“I’ll be 73 if I make it through this,” he said. “I want to spend some time with my wife and my family.

“I’m pleased with the votes, I’m very happy,” I thank God for District 3, they’ve been good to me.”

He thanks all who helped with his campaign and all his supporters, citing especially the work of “my video man Michael Yelvington.”.

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Lanier wins superintendent, Maxwell clerk

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