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When Hardin Fiscal Court conducts its first meeting of 2011, something unseen in almost two decades will occur. A woman will be seated among county government’s elected decision makers.
As the county welcomes back the magistrate form of government, the voters of District 3 selected Lisa Williams to represent their interests for the next four years.
While she ran on her business management know-how and familiarity with leadership by directing the local Innovation Center, it would be fair to say that her gender was a tool in winning votes. It was mentioned in interviews and at forums. This newspaper’s editorial recommendation said the “time is long overdue to have a woman’s perspective represented on Fiscal Court.”
But in this circumstance, she’s not the pioneer. That path was paved in 1977 when Josephine Yates was elected to Fiscal Court.
Described as a bookkeeper for an agribusiness company, she won a six-way race for the Democratic nomination in May by carrying her home precinct of Rineyville by a sizeable margin. That contest also included another female candidate, Ellen Corbett, who finished behind Yates and Woody Burton.
The stories often referred to her as a political newcomer, which in journalism jargon just means that she had not run previously for public office. She had a background in giving time in service to the community as a member of the St. Brigid parish’s school board.
In the general election, Yates carried three of four precincts in the district to defeat a Republican challenger, dairy farmer David Bewley.
By the way, primary issues in that election were planning and zoning, dealing with growth and development and possibly relocating the county courthouse. Sound familiar?
I remember that race because it was one of my first opportunities to vote. My father always went to the polls and advised me, like most Hardin County dads in that era, that if you wanted any say in who serves in local government then you had better register as a Democrat.
Sons don’t always listen to their dads and I was idealistic fan of Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric – not to mention his days as the host of TV’s “Death Valley Days,” which was brought to you by 20-mule team Borax.
But that’s another story for another day.
Yates broke the gender barrier in county government and was one of many local women who moved into elected offices in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Pat Durbin, Susan Keith and Elizabeth Bland also come to mind.
Even earlier, Louisa Bewley and Wyla Mae Long served as circuit court clerk.
Lisa Williams has a legacy of service to follow as a woman among men in the county courthouse. However, she also takes a step along another uncharted course when Fiscal Court convenes with an unusual political party makeup.
Four Democrats and four Republicans will fill the new chairs in the renovated third-floor chambers. While Harry Berry, a Republican, is beginning his third term as judge-executive, Republican magistrates have been quite rare.
That same 1977 election saw 29-year-old Mike Jones, an Elizabethtown CPA and a Republican, defeat carpet store-owner Coleman Crady by 10 votes in what was then District 6. That’s thought to be the only time a GOP candidate was elected to Fiscal Court before last November. A couple other Republicans, including Dexter Pepper, were appointed to fill magisterial vacancies but none were elected.
The GOP representatives are Williams, Fred Clem Jr., E.G. Thompson and Dwight Morgan. The Democrats are Roy Easter, Doug Goodman, Bill Wiseman and Garry King.
It will be interesting to observe voting patterns over the next four years to see if we can keep the crippling effects of partisanship that hinder Frankfort and Washington from coming into play here in Hardin County.
Let’s hope these political pioneers can cut a cooperative path toward prosperity.
Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or email@example.com.