Fresh from Putnam County

Dateline: Tue 07 Nov 2006

Not only can you get corn cob jelly and deep-fried pickles in Putnam County, you also can get one of the best damn political hee-haws possible in this whole United States of America.

So I was told -- about the politics, that is. The pickles and jelly I'd already taste-tested. My source, the eminent DePauw University communications professor Ken Bode, was exactly correct.

Tuesday night's election results started rolling into Greencastle starting shortly after 6 p.m., at a packed county courthouse, in a scene reminiscent of -- what? Kill the cliche, because I don't know. I've never seen anything like it.

Hundreds of people jammed into the second floor of the courthouse, many wearing T-shirts announcing their allegiance: Re-elect FRISBEE for sheriff, HELMER FOR SHERIFF, STOP METH IN PUT CO: BOOKWALTER, Ensley for Prosecutor, Elect Amos Thomas, etc. With League of Women Voters members calling off the vote as each precinct reported, with a gangly 15-year-old boy manning a tall ladder and recording the results in marker on a huge board against a massive wall, with democracy and the mists of freedom hanging in the air, with every eye turned to the results if not a jocular neighbor, it was a sight to behold.

Even before I could take it all in, I knew I was in for a treat. I spotted a guy I'd seen at auctions around the county, sitting off to the side, baseball cap and grin in place.

"So what are you doing here?" I asked Randy Lawson, 42, of Greencastle.

He'd worked at the polls that day, he said, to support Sheriff Mark Frisbee, the young GOP hotdog who helped turn the tide against meth in this county. He'd never been involved in anything political before, added Lawson.

"I liked the way he done things. Now that I have kids, I can appreciate the way things are done right. I've been on the other side."

So, what does that mean -- you were a Democrat and you changed affiliation?

No. "I was on the other side (wink, wink, of law enforcement).

"Born on the wrong side of the tracks. Now that I am a quote mature adult unquote I appreciate what it is to be a decent member of society."

It continued uphill from there. Leslie Hanson, League of Women Voters spokeswoman and local shop owner (Bright Futures, an educational supply store for kids) noted that the turnout was "good and strong, 50 percent in most precincts," although "one was at 17 percent." Still, the fact that people vote is always good news to the LWV.

By 8:45 p.m., amazingly, results were in. Putnam is not unlike most of rural Indiana -- we trend Republican. Hence Sheriff Frisbee beat former Sheriff Tom Helmer, who unfortunately was known for nepotism, in what Frishbee said was a dirty campaign and was the most closely watched race; Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter, formerly a deputy prosecutor in Marion County, bested former schoolteacher Brad Ensley; Amos Thomas (father of former Indiana State Rep. Andy Thomas) won over Richard Thompson (who ran on an anti-Marion County platform) and Putnam County trustee Thelma Bumgardner, a longtime veteran, squeaked out a victory against Doris Miller, a former schoolteacher who made a point during the LWV debate: "I have nothing against Thelma. She has done a good job."

Sorry to say, Brad Ellsworth lost to John Hostettler for the U.S. House seat in the bloody 8th, altho the forecast is at this point that Ellsworth is the victor. (Thank you Southern Indiana and Terre Haute -- Hostettler had a lot of problems, and being rude and stupid is one of them).

As I left. Frisbee and other GOP winners were heading to the Elks Club for a celebration. Frisbee had just been called a "lying c---sucker" by a member of the opponent's team, he said -- again, a sign that this was the most bitterly contested race in the county. Meanwhile, a group of dispirited Helmer backers were on the darkened street in front of the courthouse, carrying off Helmer signs they'd taken down from the streets.

Prosecutor Bookwalter -- a victor, an incumbent, with many years of prosecutorial experience -- told me during a chat in the courthouse that cleaning up the streets and fields of election signs is important in the county. After the election, it's important to get on with life in Putnam. Everyone understands that fact of life.



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