By Ron Gregory
WILLIAMSON — The November Mingo County general election may have just gotten even more complicated.
While debates have raged about whether the voters can select their own Family Court judge in November, a position thought to be clear on the ballot appears to have gotten murky Friday.
That’s when County Clerk “Big Jim” Hatfield sent a letter to the state election commission asking to withdraw as the Democrat nominee for county commissioner. Hatfield, with two years remaining on his county clerk term, filed for county commissioner in January. He defeated sitting Commissioner Mike Carter after a hard-fought primary.
Carter had been appointed to the post when former county commissioner David Baisden resigned as part of a plea bargain involving a federal corruption charge.
Hatfield, who has been enormously popular with Mingo voters, cited “extenuating personal circumstances” as the reason for his request.
State law permits only one person to serve as a county commissioner from a given magisterial district. Hatfield says in his letter that the person chosen to fill Baisden’s unexpired term must live in some district other than Tug/Hardee or Williamson. That is because sitting commissioners Greg “Hootie” Smith and John Mark Hubbard reside in those two districts.
Hatfield ran as a candidate from Stafford District, where he currently resides. In his letter, however, he says “at the age of 75, the three-hour round trip from Gilbert to Williamson is proving to be too taxing on my health and I cannot see well enough to drive that distance after dark. Therefore, I am making plans to reside in Williamson District to avoid the three-hour drive.”
Hatfield continues, “Being in Williamson will shorten my drive to five minutes but it will put me in the wrong district and I will be ineligible to serve as county commissioner if I am elected in November.”
Hatfield then recalls his 1982 brain tumor surgery and a stroke he suffered. “I have recovered but have lingering health issues that continue to worsen as I age,” he wrote. “Driving long distances gives me headaches and has been causing severe pain in my back and knees. Every year my health continues to decline.”
Hatfield says he wishes to withdraw from the commission race and continue to serve out his clerk term. He can do that and reside in Williamson, he says.
If the election commission grants Hatfield’s request, it would apparently be up to the Democrat and Republican county executive committees to fill ballot slots for the county commission in November.
Mingo Democrat Chairman H. Truman Chafin said he has provided an open agenda for the Democrat meeting on Aug. 5 “so we can address situations like this, if they occur.”
No timetable has been set for the elections commission to rule on Hatfield’s request.