Ashe cruises by Cruzan in sheriff race

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

In a landslide win, Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe held off challenger and former sheriff Jim Cruzan in what many have called the election’s most heated race.

“I feel very comfortable with the people in Jackson County entrusting me to be their sheriff and continuing to be their sheriff,” Ashe said Tuesday night after winning the Democratic primary.

Prior to election results coming in Ronald Rhodes, a volunteer Ashe campaign worker soliciting voters at the Webster polling spot, estimated that Ashe was pulling in a majority of the vote.

“From the people I’ve talked with, I guess he’s getting about 85 percent of the vote,” Rhodes said, standing outside the polls under an umbrella during a late afternoon rainshower.

Rhodes wasn’t far off. In early and absentee voting Ashe earned 541 votes to Cruzan’s 213, a margin that only increased as precincts began handing in their results at about 8 p.m. Tuesday night. With about half the county’s precincts reporting Ashe had jumped ahead with more than 70 percent of the vote.

In the end, Ashe earned 3,520 votes to Cruzan’s 1,388.

Ashe attributed his win to hard work and the law enforcement community bonding together to support him.

In 2002, Ashe had resigned from his post as chief deputy of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and was working as an officer at Western Carolina University when he defeated then two-term incumbent Cruzan by 716 votes in the Democratic primary. Cruzan supporters blamed the large pool of candidates that included Larry Bryson, an officer with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department, and Joe Frigo, a Sylva police officer, for splitting the vote. Bryson earned 774 votes, and Frigo earned 470 votes during that election. Ashe went on to defeat Republican Curtis Lambert that November.

Cruzan hung this year’s campaign on Jackson County’s crime rates. Yearly statistics reported to the State Bureau of Investigation show a steady increase in crime since Ashe took office. The number of rapes reported increased from 1 in 2002 to 21 in 2004. Robberies went up from 0 in 2002 to 7 in 2004. Aggravated assaults are up from 17 in 2002 to 84 in 2004. Motor vehicle thefts rose from 14 in 2002 to 78 in 2004.

However, Ashe attributed a majority of rising crime to drugs, particularly methamphetamines.

“Felony drug arrests have been the biggest increase,” he said in an interview prior to the election.

Ashe said that his first goal for his next term in office is to create a Sheriff’s Advisory Committee that will represent all of Jackson County.

“It will help me to better understand the needs of the community through the voices of the citizens,” Ashe said.

Ashe also plans to continue fighting the war on drugs, implement additional community and school education programs, increase law enforcement training and improve communication between citizens and the sheriff’s office.

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