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By DAMON LAWRENCE
People gathered in the hallway on the first floor at the courthouse told the story of the county election. The only ones who stuck around to hear the final results Thursday night were the winners and their supporters.
Roane County Property Assessor Teresa Kirkham won big in her race. She received 4,158 votes, easily defeating challenger Steven Robinette, who received 2,107 votes.
“Thirty-two years of experience speaks for itself,” Kirkham said. “Plus, a lot of credit I need to give to my workers, my employees, my friends and my family. I can't thank them enough. They pulled me through this without my mom and dad here.”
Both of Kirkham's parents died in the past year.
There was also sweeping changes in the District 5/6 school board race. All of the incumbents were unsuccessful in their quest to serve another term. The voters chose newcomers Kim Nelson, Hugh Johnson and Rob Jago as their representatives for the next four years.
“I'm so happy for everybody that got out there and worked hard for me,” Nelson said. “I had a lot of volunteers, family and friends that went with me to knock on doors, and I'm really happy for them tonight, too.”
Nelson was the top vote-getter in District 5/6. She received 1,744 votes. Johnson came in second with 1,234 votes and Jago was third with 1,077 votes.
“I'm proud to be elected by the people of Kingston,” Jago said. “I grew up here. Went to school here and graduated from high school here. I'm just glad the people responded the way they did.”
Johnson, whose son, Chris, is vice principal at Cherokee Middle School and a county commissioner, also was enthusiastic.
“This isn't just a victory for one group of people,” Johnson said. “This I hope is a victory for every kid in Roane County and teachers, too.”
District 7 school board incumbent Everett Massengill held onto his seat. He received 558 votes to defeat challenger Howie Rose, who received 327 votes.
Nelson will be the lone woman on the school board when she starts her term in September. She has a young son, and she stressed the need for female representation on the school board during her campaign.
“I had a unique message,” Nelson said. “I was the only female on the ballot, and I'm a mom.”
“I think that might have had some impact on the vote,” she added.
It quickly became apparent that Kirkham would be the runaway winner in the property assessor's race once early totals started to trickle in. She was ahead 69 percent to 31 percent with just four of the 25 precincts reporting.
Robinette thanked all the people who voted for him. He said the outcome shows that the county is not ready for change.
“I still believe that government officials should be servants to the people, and they should do the jobs that they're elected to do,” he said. “It's their responsibility to be a positive role model, and they shouldn't be abusing their power, and they should treat everyone equally.”
Kirkham said her landslide victory is proof that Robinette's campaign tactics backfired. Robinette questioned her character, integrity and made aspersions about the way she's done her job throughout the race .
“I think this speaks volumes to someone who tries to tear someone down and tell lies on them and play dirty politics,” Kirkham said. “If I was him I'd be embarrassed.”
Robinette said he had no plans to call Kirkham to concede.
“He should,” Kirkham said. “That's the gentleman thing to do. I would call him if he won.”