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District 1 a 'Gray' area

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District 1 County Council winner Kenon Gray (left) talks with new Northern District Commissioner Ed Tarantino Tuesday night at Primo in downtown New Castle.
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New Castle students (left to right) Macie Baty, Mason Hardwick and Marley Bell endured cold, blowing winds to support their candidates in front of Grace Baptist Church on Q. Avenue. Baty and Hardwick supported Cory Bennett and Bell supported Kenon Gray.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

One retired educator will take over for another in District 1 of the Henry County Council, but the party affiliation will change.

Republican Kenon Gray, a former administrator at both South Henry and New Castle schools, dominated a three-way race Tuesday, earning the right to succeed the retiring Democrat Richard Bouslog, a long-time elementary principal here.

Gray had more votes than his two competitors combined. He finished with 2,175 votes, 242 more than the 1,933 opposed him – 1,443 who voted for Democrat Patricia Cronk and 490 who voted for Libertarian Jeremiah Morrell.

"I honestly didn't think the winner would get over 50 percent of the votes in this race," said Gray, who had nearly 53 percent. "I know that we worked hard. There are slightly over 5,000 registered voters in District 1 and we hit over 4,500 homes.

"I think all three of us worked hard," Gray said, referring to his opponents. "I saw the other campaigns out frequently. I know it has to be disappointing to them. They both worked very hard."

Swept into the general election on the wings of an anti-wind turbine platform, Gray said another issue has come to the forefront, one he hopes to help solve in 2019.

"Right before the primary I took a tour of the jail and that was eye-opening," Gray said. "I think the staff there does an incredible job with the hand they're dealt."

While wind turbines were less an issue in the general election, Gray said the anti-wind forces helped him considerably in the tough three-person race.

“The anti-wind group has been unbelievably supportive, more so than I ever anticipated," Gray said. "Once I proved myself as genuinely believing it was a cause that I could back with my science background, I think I proved to them that I was genuine in my belief wind turbines were not going to be a positive for the county. If they came in, it would be a long-term negative. It might be a short-term cash cow but a long-term negative."

For Cronk, who was second in the three-person race with just over 35 percent of the vote, her reaction was unique in what is often a hard-nosed, supercharged political climate. She described her overall experience as "beautiful" and "lovely."

"As I stand back and look at the whole experience, I'm thankful for it," Cronk said. "It's been great to have my friends' support. So many people have said wonderful things.

"One lady came in and said you helped me at Ball Hospital, I know you," Cronk continued, referring to her work as a registered nurse. "There's a lot of people who remembered me when I worked at Henry County Hospital. I've appreciated it. It's interesting to engage in those conversations."

For Morrell, it was a disappointment, to say the least. His campaign efforts drew the attention of Libertarian officials not only at the state level, but on a national scale as well. What may have hurt his chances Tuesday was the reluctance of voters to split their tickets.

Final results showed 8,953 voters cast straight party ballots Tuesday, more than half of the entire turnout. Republicans claimed 6,258 of them, Democrats had 2,557 while 138 had Libertarian-only ballots.

"We gave it a shot," Morrell said. "Straight ticket voting is a tough headwind."

Morrell cited Henry County post-election numbers showing a sudden surge in straight-ticket voting. He said:

• 56 percent of the voters Tuesday cast straight ticket ballots, up from 39 percent in 2016 and 37 percent in 2014.

• Of those who cast straight tickets Tuesday, 70 percent went to the Republican party.

• 39 percent of all voters Tuesday cast straight ticket Republican ballots.

While emphasizing it didn't decide the outcome, Morrell pointed out there was some voter confusion with the electronic equipment that may have contributed to the local straight-ticket surge.

He said when voters were asked to select a party to cast a straight ticket ballot, confusing signals resulted if that voter tried to skip the prompt.

"If you tried to skip, it gave you an error message and asked 'are you sure?'" Morrell explained. "I really do think the software was a big part of the change we saw in straight ticket voting."

Morrell said he'd like to see more than just software change. He thinks the straight ticket option should be a thing of the past.

"Indiana is one of nine states that still has straight ticket voting," he said. "We have a system that encourages it. I think we're better than that. I hope the county can make some adjustments in the way this is set up for 2020 so we don't just promote tribalism."