Willie Sawyers, publisher

With the fall campaign beginning to heat up, political observers are pondering several burning questions:

1. How will the scathing state audit released last week affect the sheriff’s race?

It certainly doesn’t help Sheriff Gene Hollon’s re-election chances. The audit revealed that the sheriff’s office has an $80,000 deficit and has demonstrated a pattern of lax financial controls.

Since the sheriff’s office collects most of the tax money in the county, voters may not appreciate such poor handling of their money.

The audit was manna from heaven for challenger Fred Yaden, and he took immediate advantage. He purchased a full-page ad in today’s newspaper detailing “81,271 reasons to vote for Fred Yaden.” The ad quoted extensively from State Auditor Crit Luallen’s report on the sheriff’s department.

But Hollon has two things going for him that may soften the blow of the audit report. He is a Republican in a county where Republicans outnumber Democrats 4-1. Yaden, as a Democrat, will have to overcome that huge advantage if he is to pull the upset.

Hollon also ran surprisingly well in the May Primary. Most political observers believed Hollon would face a stiff challenge from Floyd Brummett, who lost by just over a 100 votes in the previous election. But Hollon showed he had expanded his political base in four years and won re-election handily.

2. Was the audit’s release timed for political effect?

Hollon claims the audit was released just a few weeks before the election to damage him politically. Luallen wanted to help a fellow Democrat in Yaden, he claimed.

The accusation seems a little far-fetched. It’s doubtful the state auditor’s office wants to influence one specific election among 120 counties. A statewide race, maybe, but not a local election. It’s also Yaden’s first attempt at public office, so really has no standing to call in campaign favors from the Democratic hierarchy.

If Luallen had delayed the release of the audit report until after the election, that could have been viewed as political as well.

In any case, the taxpayers of Laurel County deserve to know what’s going on in the sheriff’s department as soon as the information becomes available.

3. Will Jack Binder have to pay for the James Francis fiasco?

Things have quieted down considerably in the Laurel County School system a stormy spring. Francis, the former superintendent, turned the system upside down before he was finally forced out by the school board after just eight months on the job.

Binder and the rest of the school board members took a lot of heat for not properly researching Francis’ colorful and troubling past. Now, he must face that issue head on while trying to win re-election.

Binder is a seasoned veteran who has been involved in the education process in Laurel County for more than 30 years. His challenger, Joe Schenkenfelder, is a former state trooper and has been a strong supporter of athletics in the county. He is extremely likable and provides a fresh face to the campaign.

This race is too close to call at this point. It will be interesting to see just how deep a swath Francis cut in this county and if he’ll take someone else down with him.

4. Where is Gene Huff?

The former state senator seemingly has a good chance of returning a Republican to the county judge’s office. But he’s been noticeably absent from the campaign trail this fall and has only a few yard signs out.

On the other hand, judge executive Lawrence Kuhl has been all over the place attending meetings, presiding over boards and organizing several charitable activities.

Kuhl has been the driving force behind the veterans’ memorial that will be unveiled this Saturday on the courthouse square. It will be an emotional event and Kuhl will get a lot of credit and support from the veterans and their families.

He’s using the power of his incumbency to full advantage.

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