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Wednesday, 03 May 2006 00:00

Swanger upset; Kirkpatrick, Curtis top vote getters

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By Michael Beadle

Incumbent Kirk Kirkpatrick and newcomers Charles “Skeeter” Curtis and Bill Upton have won the top three slots in the Haywood County commissioner Democratic primary. Incumbent commission chairman Mark Swanger and former commissioner Bill Noland were the fourth- and fifth-place vote-getters, respectively, according to unofficial results at the Haywood County Board of Elections.

Kirkpatrick, Curtis and Upton will face off against each other and Republicans Kevin Ensley, Jim Griffin, and Carlisle Ferguson in the November election for three seats on the Haywood commission.

Haywood Commissioner Chairman Swanger suffered defeat, falling to fourth place.

Despite having a new computerized system in place that would have all the votes tallied and sent to Raleigh much quicker, votes were still being counted and recounted four hours after polls closed at 7:30 p.m. Kirkpatrick, a Waynesville attorney, and Curtis, a Canton businessman, split about half the vote while Upton, a former Haywood County Schools principal and superintendent, came in third place in his first venture into elected politics.

“I’m happy with the vote,” Kirkpatrick said, smiling at the Haywood County Elections Board office after checking on initial returns and talking with fellow candidates and supporters.

Kirkpatrick said he did better than he expected in Canton’s Beaverdam districts and was pleasantly surprised to be one of the top vote-getters. Joyous over the win, Kirkpatrick seemed even more elated over his daughter’s wins at the middle school conference track meet the same night and had family and friends alongside as he looked over the returns. He said he ran his campaign on his record of honesty as a commissioner who weighs in on an issue and votes accordingly — even if that means upsetting some voters.

“What you see at the board meetings is what you get,” Kirkpatrick said.

Newcomer Skeeter Curtis said he was humbled by his showing in Tuesday’s primary.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” he said, “but I really appreciate the people who voted for me and the confidence they put in me. I’ll do my best to represent them.”

While an anti-Swanger political contingent may have helped pile up votes for challengers like Curtis, he said he tried not to get involved in the fray.

“I tried to stay at arm’s length from the negative campaigning and tried to run on what I stand for,” he said. “Now it’s time for me to step up to the plate.”

While congratulatory handshakes went around for some, County Commission Chairman Swanger was noticeably glum as he and supporters scanned early election results. The race still seemed too close to call for third place a few hours after polls had closed, but Swanger appeared ready to concede his loss — a first after being the top vote-getter as school board chairman in 1996 and 2000 elections and again as a county commissioner in 2002. While Swanger appeared cordial in conceding defeat, he attributed his loss to a “barrage of negative ads” that portrayed him as a micromanaging, power-hungry board chairman who ran off top administrators — most recently longtime Haywood County Manager Jack Horton. A political action committee called the Good Governance Legion raised thousands of local dollars in an effort to oust Swanger and it appeared to have worked. Negative attacks against Swanger came out on local cable TV, and in emails and letters to the editor in local newspapers. Swanger called these attacks “blatantly wrong.”

“I refused to stoop to their level of lies and negative campaigning,” Swanger said.

The political fallout of voting for the resignation of Horton coupled with the negative ads seemed too much to overcome, but Swanger said he wouldn’t change any decisions he made as a commissioner who fought for open meetings and above-board government decisions.

“Win or lose, I wouldn’t do that any differently,” Swanger said.

“By and large, the candidates ran positive campaigns,” he said, commending all the candidates who took on the challenging race. Swanger also applauded local newspapers for running fair campaign coverage.

Before election results had been officially tallied in all the precincts, Swanger was willing to forego a run-off primary, should he end up in a close race for the third and final slot to go on to the November election.

“The sun will rise, win or lose, and life will go on,” Swanger said.

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