Republican claims county clerk's office in Mercer

November 05, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - It was a stunning victory for Republican Ronnie Compton, who defeated Democrat Bruce Harper handily for the job of Mercer County clerk.

Not only was the margin wide - Compton got 1,216 more votes than Harper - but also stunning was the fact that a Republican will hold the office.

"We can't find any situation where a Republican has held a countywide office," said Ann Robinson, longtime GOP leader in Mercer County. Compton garnered 4,184 votes to Harper's 3386 votes.

The party won't have much time to get used to the idea. Compton was sworn in this morning and took over the job today. Harper has served as interim clerk since July when Mercer County Clerk Larry Short resigned, citing the expense of the county's family health insurance plan.


Short has helped Compton prepare for the job, but Compton said last week that Short will not work for him.

"I'll come in the morning and get business taken care of and then I'm out of here," Harper, 61, said Tuesday night after the votes were counted.

He oversaw the counting of the votes, even when it was clear he had lost the race to serve in the office for three more years.

"I thought it would be a lot closer," Harper said. "I guess they outworked us. The people have spoken." Compton, too, was surprised by the margin by which he won.

"First, I want to thank God for the job," Compton, 40, said Tuesday night at a victory party at Bright Leaf Resort. "It was just a lot of hard work by a lot of good people."

Harper expressed concern for the jobs of the women in the clerk's office.

"There is no merit system," he said, meaning Compton could fire them at any time.

Four of the deputy clerks, Gayle Johnson, JoEllen Horn, Marsha Noel and Frances Stine, have worked there for at least 14 years.

"I want to emphasize what a great bunch the people who work here are," Harper said.

"This is the finest group of people I've ever worked with in my life. They all have the welfare of Mercer County at heart."

Compton said he had no intention of firing the women in the office. He repeated a statement he made last week.

"I called all of the girls and assured them their jobs are OK," Compton said.

The newly-elected clerk said, "I want to serve the people," but his first act as clerk may be to close the office at least for one day while all of the business, such as checking accounts and license inventory, is turned over to him.

Compton said he would call Mercer County Judge-Executive John Trisler to discuss closing the office today.

For his part, Harper says he is finished with electoral politics. Asked if the Democratic Party came to him in three years and asked him to run for clerk again, Harper said he would not run.

"That won't happen."

Harper said he doesn't know what his next job will be. He was farm manager for Wilkinson Farms for 27 years until Wallace Wilkinson went bankrupt, a situation Harper said at the time was a surprise to him.

Before taking the interim clerk's job, he worked in the Governor's Office for Agriculture Policy for 15 months.

"Ronnie ran a good clean race," Harper said. "As far as I know, Ronnie said not one bad thing about me and I said not one bad thing about him. For the good of Mercer County, I wish him well."

Nevertheless, Harper seemed stunned by the outcome of the race. "It really caught me off guard," he said.

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