An anti-incumbent mood swept three local officials out of office Saturday as voters expressed their dissatisfaction with status-quo in Floyd County’s GOP primary.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordon Hannett — whose first term as the county prosecutor was marked by controversy, fights with Circuit Judge Ray W. Grubbs and widespread dissatisfaction over plea bargains and lost cases — was soundly defeated by newcomer Eric Branscom, a former Montgomery County assistant commonwealth’s attorney.
Branscom outpolled Hannett more than 2-1, gathering 860 votes to the incumbents 316. He is expected to face a tough general election campaign against local attorney Stephanie Murray Shortt.
Primary voters also ousted longtime Little River District Supervisor Kerry Whitlock, replacing him 174-130 on the GOP ballot with Virgel Allen. Burk’s Fork Supervisor Diane Belcher lost out to James "Jolly" Webb, 203-131.
Mary Turman won the right to be the GOP candidate to replacing retiring treasurer Doronda Thomas, beating Tony Gallimore 826-345.
The vote was a sharp rebuke for Hannett, who went into the election with a lot of questions surrounding his record as prosecutor, and also for popular county sheriff Shannon Zeman, the only county official to openly endorse the controversial Commonwealth’s Attorney for re-election.
Hannett recently lost two high-profile jury trials in less than a week, failing to win conviction of a Floyd man accused of 140 counts of sexually-molesting an underage girl or conviction in a case involving the volatile gated community of Park Ridge.
The embattled prosecutor also came under fire from rank and file law enforcement officials as well as county residents for a string of plea bargains that let defendants charged with drug crimes and other felonies off with little or no jail time.
But Hannett’s biggest problem came in 2005 and 2006 when he was called to active duty with his Army Reserve unit and he first tried to get out of serving and when that failed took Judge Grubbs to court because he did not like the Judge’s appointment for the interim prosecutor. The case went all the way to the State Supreme Court, which ruled against Hannett.
The interim attorney, Stephanie Murray-Shortt, compiled an impressive record of victories, including a jury trial conviction that sent a Copper Hill man to prison for life for assaulting his wife, and she won widespread approval from both law enforcement officials and defense attorneys.
Although Shortt has not yet announced her bid for office, she is expected to run in the General Election as an independent.
The losses by two incumbent supervisors was also not a surprise. The Board has come under fire over the county’s mangled finances, two sharp tax increases in three years and other problems in county government.
Voters decided it was time for a change. On Saturday, they made several.