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Posted: November 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Obama, Dems make history in Newton

Brown set to be first black sheriff in county, Morgan first female commission chair

By Morry Gash/The Associated Press/

Yes he can: President-elect Barack Obama smiles during his acceptance speech at Grant Park in Chicago Tuesday night, Nov. 4, 2008.

Tuesday night was a turning point for Newton County in a number of ways. Not only did voters elect their first female county chair but they also elected the county's first black sheriff.


Additionally, after more than a decade of Republican rule, Democrats surged in the polls all over the county. The county voted for Democratic candidates in 11 of the 15 contested partisan races on the ballot.


The only Republicans to win in Newton County were Tax Commissioner Barbara Dingler, District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing, District 5 Commissioner-elect Tim Fleming and Georgia Public Service Commissioner Doug Everett.


With 23 of 24 precincts reporting as of Thursday, Newton County narrowly voted for Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain 50.21 percent to 49.02 percent. The county also voted for Democrat Jim Martin over Sen. Saxby Chambliss 50.94 percent to 45.89 percent.


Though District 17 State Sen. John Douglas was reelected with 60 percent of the vote in his district, he lost the vote in Newton County, which was thought to be a solid base of support for him, by several hundred votes to Democrat Rudy Cox.


Tuesday's voting is a big change from four years ago when President George Bush won the vote in Newton County by a margin of nearly 7,000 voters over Sen. John Kerry. Sen. Johnny Isakson also won by a wide margin of more than 6,000 votes over Rep. Denise Majette.


Voter turnout was also up from 2004. Of the county's 54,475 registered voters, more than 76 percent voted in the general election. In 2004, only 70 percent of the county's 35,124 registered voters cast ballots.


Newton County Republican Party Chairman Steve Bray said a "perfect storm" of factors contributed to the poor showing of the party including dissatisfaction with the financial bailout, the war in Iraq and a historic level of enthusiasm among minority voters, which resulted in a "national political environment that was just not generally favorable to Republican candidates."


"I feel that we had an excellent slate of candidates for each office," Bray said. "Although the outcomes were not what we would have preferred overall, the results of the election, I believe, should provide quality leadership in Newton County for years to come."


A number of other factors likely contributed to the Democratic sweep in Newton County. Among them are the changing demographics of the county which has seen a number of new residents moving into the Western end of the county in the last few years.


Many of these new residents are black and are reliably Democratic voters who hail from Atlanta or outside of the state. Added with a widespread national dissatisfaction with President Bush's administration, fear about the economy and the excitement of Obama's candidacy, there was a degree the of coattail affect as a number of residents voted down the party line.


County Chairman Aaron Varner lost his reelection bid for a third term. He said he plans to call a meeting for all of the newly elected county officials and to hold a work retreat sometime at the end of the month or in December to go over upcoming road projects and critical budget issues.


"The next few months are going to be about how I transition into private life. I'm going to see what my options are," said Varner who owned and operated a janitorial service prior to becoming chairman.
For the first time ever the Board of Commissioners will have more than one female serving at the same time - Chair-elect Kathy Morgan and District 3 Commissioner-elect Nancy Schulz.


"It has been an honor to have participated in such a historic election," Morgan said. "I want to thank all the people that worked on my behalf and share my vision. The hard work is still ahead of us."


Schulz's Republican opponent, Keith Mitcham said he doesn't have any plans to run for office again any time soon.


"I'm just kind of glad to get back to normal," Mitcham said, adding "I think Nancy will do a real good job."


There is a slim possibility that the outcome of the sheriff's race may change. With one precinct still left to be counted, Sheriff-elect Ezell Brown has a very thin lead over Republican candidate Bill Watterson. Brown leads by a margin of .01 percent or 62 votes.


Newton County Board of Elections Director Donna Morrison says she has no idea how many votes will come from the final precinct, which is made up of provisional ballots and overseas military ballots. All remaining ballots must be received by the BOE tomorrow. If enough ballots come in for Watterson, it could change the outcome of the sheriff's race.


A referendum on the expansion of the senior citizen homestead exemption to $30,000 of the assessed value of the homes for seniors over 65 whose incomes are equal to or less than $25,000 passed overwhelmingly by county voters with 85 percent of the vote.

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