Gila County recorder incumbent Sadie Jo Tomerlin handily defeated Republican challenger Max Feezor in the entirely civil race that offered a rare chance for a North County resident to win a countywide office.
Meanwhile, assessor candidate Deborah Hughes beat out her opponents in the Republican primary on Tuesday, setting up a general election face-off with longtime Democratic incumbent Dale Hom.
Feezor’s closely watched challenge turned largely on an alarmingly low turnout in North County, where most precincts attracted only about 12 percent of the registered voters compared to more like 30 percent in Globe.
North County has a majority of the population and pays 70 percent of the taxes, but nearly all the county officials come from Globe.
Tomerlin, who had previously run as a Democrat, received 40 percent more of the votes than Feezor.
“I’m really excited that the voters elected me in the Republican primary,” said Tomerlin. “Hopefully the voters will elect me (in the general election) so I may show them the great job I will continue to do.”
Tomerlin is the youngest recorder elected in Arizona history. She currently is the president of the Arizona Recorder’s Association.
Feezor said he is disappointed with the results, but his wife took it very hard.
“My wife was so upset she left the building (Payson Republican Headquarters),” he said. “She’s still upset this morning ... I’m just out pulling signs and running some analysis for my own satisfaction.”
Feezor distinguished himself during the recent redistricting process by serving on a citizen committee and crunching numbers that proved the map the board of supervisors ultimately adopted that allowed for a balance between the north and the south parts of the county in the three supervisorial districts.
However, Feezor said that redrawing of voting lines would work only if voters actually voted at both ends of the county.
“There was a surprisingly light turn out in the north,” said Feezor. “Everybody assumed everybody else would vote because they felt it a shoo-in.”
According to Feezor, only 12 percent of registered voters in the north turned out, versus about 30 percent in the south.
Feezor did carry the largest precinct in Payson, 2, but Tomerlin took every other precinct throughout the county.
Political activists in the north had hoped that the new lines would offer a chance for more balanced representation in the county, but Feezor said with the low turnout, that hope died.
He raised questions about the distribution of staffing and services, noting that almost all the employees in the county recorder’s office are based in Globe even though the great bulk of the real estate transactions and other documents filed by the county recorder’s office take place in the north end of the county. Tomerlin replied that she drives often to Payson and handles many document submissions by mail or online, which means it doesn’t matter where the office is located.
Going into the general election, the two candidates for the recorder’s office both live in the Globe area.
In the assessor’s race, the two Republican candidates made their first run for office in the primary.
Deborah Hughes, a Realtor from the Payson area, received 22 percent more of the countywide Republican votes than Nathan Morris, an appraiser from Payson.
Although Hughes is married to a currently sitting Payson Town Council member, she said this race was the hardest thing she has ever done in her life.
“I’m not used to being attacked,” she said, “The next step will be even harder.”
Hughes will face incumbent Democrat Dale Hom, who has held the office for a quarter century.
She said she fears the north/south divide in politics will get rough compared to the experience she had running against Morris.
“I spent two months with all the candidates. I got to know them, their children and grandchildren,” she said, “I like them all.”
The assessor’s race has been roiled by the unprecedented fall in property values countywide in the last three years. Many taxing authorities have increased their tax rate to keep money coming in despite the decline. That means delays in reappraising property to reflect declining values can force homeowners to pay more in taxes, despite a not-yet-documented fall in value.