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Overwhelming Havens joins incumbents in Tuesday Livingston County wins

(Updated Nov. 4 3 p.m. with additional quotes) Chief assistant in collector/treasurer office triples foe’s total; West commissioner Mapel, coroner Lindley re-elected in other contested races

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Taking advantage of unseasonably-mild temperatures around 60 degrees and virtually no wind, a sizable number of persons joined candidates and their families on the east parking lot of the Livingston County Courthouse in Chillicothe (Mo.) to watch the posting of up-to-the-minute 2020 general election returns Tuesday evening, Nov. 3.

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Diana Havens, with nearly a decade of experience on the Livingston County collector/treasurer’s office staff – a number of them as the chief assistant, resoundingly was elevated to the office’s top job in Tuesday’s 2020 general election.

With Paula McCoy having chosen not to seek another 4-years term in the county’s money-handling office, Republican Havens had no trouble winning the right to succeed her. She took 75 percent of the nearly 6,600 votes cast in that race against Democrat Teresa Sykes.

She was part of the anticipated GOP domination of the Livingston County vote, which included only three contested county-level races.

The other two local-level votes were claimed by the incumbents in them.

Republican West District commissioner Dave Mapel steamrolled Democrat Kris Daniel by a virtually-3-to-1 margin, as well, receiving his second 4-years term on the 3-person county governing panel.

Democrat Scott Lindley, who has held the county’s coroner’s position since 1980, will keep it a while longer, fighting off the heavy Republican “wave” in the county by a 58-42 percent margin over challenger Josh Dennis in what was the most-contentious local battle of this election cycle.

Coasting to unopposed victories Tuesday were long-time county officeholders Steve Cox (Rep., sheriff) and Steve Ripley (Dem., assessor), first-termer Alvin Thompson (Rep., East District commissioner), and newcomer Geri Curtis (Rep., public administrator).

In regional races for state legislative representation of Livingston County, it was Republican rule again, in effectively unopposed manner.

Chillicothean Rusty Black gained a second term as state representative for the seventh district without a foe. He collected 6,150 Livingston County votes with 75 voters casting ballots for undeclared write-in candidates that are ignored.

In the 21st district state senator’s race, incumben Denny Hoskins crushed Libertarian Party nominee Mark Bliss 80-20 percent.

All told, 6,795 votes were cast by Livingston countians either Tuesday or by advance methods. That’s just under 72% of the county’s 9,473 registered voters. County clerk Sherry Parks had projected about a week earlier that perhaps close to 80% might vote.

“I thank the voters of Livingston County who took time out of their schedule to make voting a priority,” Parks commented to the C-T Wednesday morning.

Having first prevailed in an August primary in her first electoral outing, Havens was never in doubt as the general election winner for county collector/treasurer, once the votes began being tabulated.

The first numbers available were from the absentee ballots, of which there were a record 1,341 – even more than what Parks had estimated at mid-week last week.

Of those, 1,301 made a choice in the Havens-Sykes race with the eventual winner grabbing a substantial early lead of 445.

That margin continued to grow the rest of the evening as the Republican candidate prevailed in all 14 precincts (including absentee votes), finishing with a 4,943-1,643 raw-vote gap.

“That is very impressive, very impressive,” Havens reflected. “Thank you, Livingston County. I greatly appreciate all the support.”

As for any particular new initiatives or changes in the office’s operations, she said she favors one which already has been under consideration.

“We’ve talked about the ‘paperless’ process, which basically means we’d move from printing the bills on a 3-tier card-stock (paper) to a sheet of (standard) paper,” Havens related. “I really would like to see that happen.

“Other than that, we’re just going to keep things pretty much like they are and keep smiling and keep working.”

Sykes, also a first-time public-office seeker, but who did not have an opponent in August's Democratic primary, commented Thursday afternoon, "Thank you to all of my supporters, my family, my campaign volunteers, and donators! I truly felt the love.

"I encouraged the people to vote their voice and eventually they did. Good luck, Diana. Here’s praying your next four years are years you can be proud of."

The coroner’s battle, by far, was the tightest of the three county contests, but even it had winner Lindley in front by a fairly-comfortable 16 percentage points among the 6,585 votes cast.

Lindley jumped ahead immediately with just under 65 percent support from early/absentee voters and went on to claim an advantage in 11 of the other 13 voting precincts.

Dennis managed a 1-vote edge in each of two western and northwestern precincts – Green/Mooresville townships and Jackson/Sampsel townships. He also was within a combined 45 votes of his opponent in the balloting within Chillicothe’s second and third wards.

The final vote count in the coroner’s race was 3,827-2,758, Lindley.

Commenting after his victory was assured, the long-time coroner told the C-T, “It was great for me to get out and visit with people and I appreciate everyone that supported me. I appreciated the opportunity to be able to run again and be successful.”

As for his plans for his new term, he stated, “I look forward to … doing the things we’ve done all the time to earn the people’s support and move forward and make sure that we keep our education up and keep our training up. And I’m sure we will as we move forward, because that’s going to be the process that’s going to be required. … I look forward to that challenge and look forward to doing the work.”

Dennis reacted to the outcome, “We had a lot of good support. I appreciate everybody’s support. We put the good fight in.”

Noting his very competitive showing in multiple areas, he assessed, “We had a strong showing and good support. The county showed that they were ready for change, but a 40-year incumbent is hard to beat. We gave it a shot.”

He indicated he likely would consider running again in 2024.

“I hope that, if anything, we’ve opened up some eyes. … Lord willing, we may give it a shot next time.”

Mapel, like Havens and Lindley, came out of the absentee tabulations well in front (63.5-36.5 percent) and kept adding on.

He had a 3-to-1 or higher advantage in both Chillicothe wards which are included in the county’s west district and won by similar or higher spreads in all except one of the west-district precincts. Dennis had 39 percent support in the Jackson/Sampsel townships precinct.

“The campaign, for some reason, seemed to be a lot more work, a lot harder, this time than it was four years ago,” Mapel reflected after victory was officially his by a margin of 2,254-767.

“I can’t thank enough the support group that I had, the advisers I had, and the people who helped me out. They’re just invaluable friends and I’ll never forget them. I really appreciate it.

“Most importantly, I appreciate the confidence that Livingston County has in me and I will continue to work, to the best of my ability, as I’ve always promised, to be the best commissioner that I can be – to be honest, to be hard-working, to have an open door, and to continue to do what’s best for the people of Livingston County.”

The defeated Daniels, who also stood for election for the first time, commented for the C-T Wednesday morning, “I am very grateful to all those who encouraged and supported me throughout my campaign.

“Although I won’t be serving as commissioner, I will continue to work for what is best for the citizens of Livingston County.”

The day following the election, Clerk Parks reflected that the final act of the long, intense process went off with virtually no hitches.

“I’m very thankful for the dedication of my staff,” she stated. “They worked diligently to make sure the voters had a safe environment in which to vote. She is also appreciative of the poll workers who put in a very long and busy day on Tuesday.

“Nearly 70 men and women worked at the polls as election judges, IT (information technology specialists), cleaning staff and traffic control to ensure an efficient and positive voting experience. Even though there was a large turnout and there were lines at most polling places throughout the day, the day went very smoothly. With 11 polling places and 5,454 voters who went to the polls on Election Day, the equipment worked very well and the voters were courteous and patient.”

Now, she suggested, it’s time for a respite.

“Due to COVID, changes in state voting laws and the date change of the municipal election (from April to June), the county clerk’s office has been working on elections non-stop since January and is ready for a much-needed break,” she figuratively exhaled.

The next expected vote is the 2021 municipal/schools election, which will be April 6, 2021.