By Timothy Cox
Republican Bob Nuding ousted incumbent Mercer County Commissioner Tom Gagel, and Commissioner Jerry Laffin won a seventh term in office Tuesday.
Nuding's and Laffin's election victories give the county a completely Republican commission for the first time in at least 30 years.
Nuding topped Gagel 10,958-8,128 (57-43 percent) in unofficial vote totals. Laffin defeated Democrat Jeff Schwieterman 10,952-8,367 (57-43 percent).
Nuding, 58, who runs a Celina insurance agency, campaigned on job creation and fixing the county's budget woes. Nuding spent one two-year term on Celina City Council and also served two terms on the Celina City Schools board of education. Nuding said this morning he looks forward to beginning his new public post.
"I thank the voters for their trust in me. I hope I live up to their expectations," Nuding said this morning. Nuding said he plans to be an accessible public official, and invites residents to "pick up the phone and call me" with questions, concerns or ideas. He said he plans to participate as much as possible in the 2005 budget process so he can hit the ground running in January.
Laffin, 66, of Wabash, campaigned on his long experience running the county's government. He said he believes his experience and past successes are why voters returned him to office.
"I appreciate the support the citizens of Mercer County have given me," Laffin said. "I hope to continue to provide leadership and do what I can to serve the people."
Schwieterman, 48, who owns the Korner Kafe in Maria Stein, had said he would use his business experience to help turn around the county's financial situation and touted the lake and water quality as top issues.
Laffin said he will miss working with Gagel, but also said he looks forward to working with Nuding.
Gagel, 63, has spent seven years on the county commission.
"Tom was part of the team. This is a team effort; that's how we look at everything around here. We do what we think is best for the county. We try not to do things based on political affiliations."
Laffin said he stands ready to help Nuding learn the ropes of county government. Laffin, one of Ohio's longest currently serving commissioners, has worked with nine different men since he took office in 1981.
"It's going to be a learning process for Bob. I hope I'm part of that process," he said. "I've known Bob for a long time and we're going to get along fine."
Laffin and Nuding join fellow Republican Jim Zehringer on the three-person commission. Laffin said he can remember when he was rather lonely as GOP county office holder. When he first took office, the only other Republican holding office was the county coroner.
Laffin said he believes the county's swing toward the GOP during the past 20 years reflects a shift toward the left in the national Democratic Party. Many area Democrats and former Democrats are moderates and have since moved toward the Republican Party to more closely identify with their core beliefs.
"I think it (the Republican stronghold on the county commission) is definitely reflective of a shift in people's political thinking," Laffin said.
Nuding said he thinks the Republican dominated commission is not a significant issue. Voters don't necessarily stick with party affiliations in local races, he said.
"I think the people of Mercer County vote their hearts. They choose who they think will do the best job," Nuding said.