HAMLIN — Lincoln County Democrats appear to have gone full circle.
At a meeting of their newly-elected executive committee Tuesday, the membership unanimously chose Griffithsville businessman Barry Harless as the new county chairman.
The same group chose businessman and unsuccessful magistrate candidate David Webb as vice chairman.
The organization had been identified with what is commonly known in Lincoln political circles as the “old courthouse gang.” That group allegedly included such public officials as former Sheriff Jerry Bowman, ex-County Clerk Donald Whitten and former County Commissioner Thomas Ramey, Jr. That trio ended up pleading guilty to corruption charges and were sentenced to prison. All have now completed their jail terms.
But referendums on the “gang” and a political action committee named PROPAC have been going on for some time. Bowman, Whitten and Ramey went to jail because of actions during the 2010 Democrat primary. In a scheme to elect members of their slate, federal prosecutors maintained the group organized an illegal absentee voting operation.
Ironically, Harless’s wife, Phoebe, was one victim of the scheme. On election day 2010, she won the Democrat nomination for county commission but was counted out when absentee ballots were added to the count. That made Ramey the apparent “winner.”
Phoebe Harless is back on the ballot in 2014, as the Democrat nominee for the commission. She was unopposed in the primary and has no Republican opposition, either. One independent has announced intentions of running against her in November.
Webb defeated County Commissioner Charles “Doc” Vance in the balloting for vice chair. Webb was defeated for magistrate in the 2010 primary.
Two years ago, after revelations were made concerning the absentee ballot scheme, incumbent members of the “courthouse gang” suffered at the polls. PROPAC-endorsed candidates, including Assessor Josh Brumfield, were elected. Brumfield defeated former State Senator Tracy Dempsey in that 2012 primary. At that time, Dempsey was the incumbent assessor. He is now the outgoing county executive committee chair as well.
Another significant win for PROPAC in 2012 was County Commissioner K.K. Matthews. Since Phoebe Harless and Matthews are thought to be aligned with PROPAC, many political observers believe the balance of power at the courthouse will be turned after Harless is sworn in next January.
Lincoln County has only three magisterial districts. Under state law, a county with only three districts chooses four people to serve on the county executive committee. Thus, Lincoln has 12 members. Virtually all other counties in the state have enough magisterial districts to warrant the election of only two people (one male and one female) from each district.
Barry Harless, who did not attend the meeting in Hamlin, has called for party unity. “We need to forget about the past and move forward together as Democrats united,” he said.