By January, only one Democratic judge will be left at the Morgan County Courthouse, which has transformed from a bastion of blue elected officials to staunchly red ones in a decade.
Tuesday’s election saw another Democrat fall with Republican candidate Jennifer Howell’s decisive victory over incumbent Place 1 Circuit Judge Sherrie Paler. However, voters allowed incumbent Glenn Thompson to hold onto his seat as Place 2 circuit judge. He edged past Republican opponent BR “Buzz” Brown with 25,131 votes, or 52.78 percent, to Brown’s 22,516 votes, or 47.22 percent.
In the Circuit Clerk’s office, Republican Chris Priest won by a landslide 73.76 percent over Democratic opponent Martin Steelmon. He will replace retiring Democrat John Pat Orr.
Thompson, Paler and Orr all assumed office in 1994, at a time when Democrats ruled the county and the state. They have each served three consecutive terms.
On Tuesday, Priest and Howell rode a crimson tide of straight Republican ticket voting while Thompson eked out his win with smart campaigning, said John Mays, Morgan County Republican Party chairman.
“Glenn was effective, I think, in separating himself from the national Democratic Party, which no longer has the same principles of the mainstream Alabama voter,” Mays said. “He knew people would be voting straight Republican, so he told them you can still do that and vote for me in my race.”
Alabama voters can vote straight ticket but then also select individuals from other parties for specific races. Thompson acknowledged on election night his strategy of asking Republicans to vote for him, coupled with touting his 18-year record on the bench, helped him secure votes.
He won 24 of the county’s 45 precincts, capturing 17 of Decatur’s 21 polls, both of his “home boxes” in Hartselle and five boxes in southwest Morgan County. Brown won 21 precincts including Priceville, Trinity, all of eastern Morgan County and absentee ballots.
Howell swept 31 county precincts, including absentee ballots and boxes in Hartselle, Priceville and Trinity. Howell also picked off precincts in Paler’s stronghold, winning seven of Decatur’s 21 boxes. Paler won the remaining 14.
Howell, Priest and Thompson also had the local Fraternal Order of Police on their side, an endorsement which has proven to have plenty of pull with Morgan County voters. The local FOP Number 46 Lodge in Decatur endorsed Sheriff Ana Franklin and District Attorney Scott Anderson in their successful 2010 campaigns.
“Their endorsement means a lot for judges and sheriffs,” Mays said. “It says these people who are responsible to protect and serve the community feel the public will be more safer with these candidates,” Mays said.
FOP President Richard Stover said his organization endorsed Thompson, Howell and Priest because its members “know them and know what they stand for.”
“I think in the case of Judge Thompson, we feel like he’s always been firm but fair,” Stover said. “We just don’t want to get our buddy in there. It’s not about that. We want someone who will do the job correctly and work with us.”
Howell, Thompson and Priest will begin their six-year terms in January. Starting pay for circuit clerk is about $69,000, while starting pay for circuit judges is $119,000.
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