Baird upsets O'Hair for commissioner

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Rivaling headlines about meager voter turnout for Tuesday's primary election was a major upset in the race for county commissioner.

Long-time District II representative Dennis O'Hair experienced a painful loss in his bid for a fifth term to newcomer Jim Baird, who swept all but two of the county's 29 voting precincts to end the night more than 800 votes in the lead.

Baird will now go on to face Democrat opponent Russ Evans in the November general election. Evans, a current member of the Greencastle City Council, managed 741 total votes.

The final votes showed Baird rising to the top of the pile with 1,771 total votes compared to O'Hair with 958 votes.

"This is a new experience for me, so I wasn't a good predictor of how things would go," Baird said after learning of the victory.

Perhaps no one was more surprised by the results than O'Hair, who will step down after 16 years of service on the board.

"I'm really surprised," a clearly disappointed O'Hair said after the race.

Both men said they intentionally steered away from negative issues during their campaign and tried to support one another. They complimented each other on having run a positive campaign.

"I'm just pleased that we ran that kind of campaign," Baird said. "I have really enjoyed the experience. We felt we needed to get our background out there, let people know who we were and leave it up to them to decide."

O'Hair said the fact that the campaign was so positive made Tuesday's loss that much more difficult to understand.

"I guess my biggest thing is, there was never a campaign issue. Why should I be replaced?" O'Hair said. "I think we had some good supporters, but bottom line, people wanted a change."

In the meantime, Evans and Baird say they are already thinking about November and what they'll have to do to prepare.

Evans said he plans to step up his efforts to make telephone calls, get out and meet the voters and continue to speak up about issues he feels are important to Putnam County residents.

"I honestly believe I have the best background to be the next commissioner," Evans said.

Some of the things he plans to lobby for include better roads, improved cooperation between "all levels of government" and combining some county and city offices in order to save money.

Baird has said he plans to push for more growth in the community while still working to maintain the county's "small-town atmosphere."

"I appreciate the community supporting me and I plan to make every effort to live up to their votes of confidence," Baird said.

As for the results of Tuesday night, Baird declined to speculate on what may have been the cause for his winning all the precincts except for Monroe East and Franklin South.

"We are pleased about that," he said. "I was pleased with the turnout of the voters as well."

O'Hair, on the other hand, offered a few ideas on why he thinks the votes swung the other way this time.

"People aren't happy in general today with the high gas prices, the trickle down effect," he said. "I don't want to blame it on that. But I think it's a combination of things, the trickle down, people wanting change, the tax bills coming out a week before the election. People are just unhappy."

Looking back on his tenure on the board, O'Hair said he has no regrets and is proud of some of the things he and his fellow commissioners have accomplished over the years. They include "cutting out all the fat" from the county's spending, seeking bids for all projects in an effort to get the best price, and encouraging a county highway department that is "one of the top in the state."

"We put in some really hard issues in this county," O'Hair said. "And we had to do some things like planning and zoning that weren't popular, but for the benefit of the tax payers, they were a necessity."

As for his future, the 55-year-old O'Hair said he may slow down a little and is looking forward to spending more time with his wife Janet and the couple's children and grandchildren.

"Really over the years, I did what had to be done," he said. "I always had the taxpayer in my mind. Some of the decisions I had to make over the years were maybe not good for my family personally, but it was the best for Putnam County taxpayers. And that's the kind of stuff I'm most proud of."

Turning and looking at his family on the courthouse steps, O'Hair said, "I guess I'm just thankful I got a family that's been behind me for 16 years. You've gotta have family and friends."

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