Experience, name recognition and a campaign war chest 40 times larger than his opponent’s were brought to bear by veteran Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper on Tuesday in his successful race for re-election against first-time office-seeker Bill Huddleston.
In unofficial results with all 174 precincts reporting, Carper, a Democrat and Charleston attorney who has served on the commission for 22 years, most of it as president, collected 37,175 votes in unofficial returns, compared with 23,504 votes for Huddleston.
“The political playbook calls for you to say you’re humble at a time like this,” said Carper. “But I’m feeling not so much humble as I am feeling that I’m a blessed man.”
The county commission, he said, “will be making some very major announcements in the next 30 or 40 days — after the election, because we didn’t want to risk anyone not getting a job by making an announcement too early to get votes.”
Carper, who had been on the move since 3 a.m. Tuesday to arrange for backup power sources at several voting precincts after strong wind and heavy rain swept through the county during the night, said that it appeared no county races were close enough to be affected by a canvass.
Democrat Ben Salango ran unopposed for the unexpired term on the commission created when former commissioner Dave Hardy joined Gov. Jim Justice’s administration.
During his tenure, Carper, has led the effort to shape the commission into a proactive agency that, on its own initiative, has repaired roads and small bridges and installed traffic lights when the state balked at performing those services. Following severe flooding in June 2016, the commission led the effort to repair and reopen the Clendenin Public Library and apply the pressure needed to compel a private property owner to replace the bridge providing public access to Elkview’s Crossings Mall.
“I believe I have helped change the role of what a county commissioner can do,” Carper said in October. “Our commission has done things that commissions in other counties couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”
Conversion of Shawnee Park’s lightly used nine-hole golf course into the $20 million Shawnee Sports Complex, which is hosting the 100-team Friends of Coal Cup soccer tournament this weekend, also took place on Carper’s watch.
Huddleston, the lead pastor at Tabernacle House of Praise, in Cross Lanes, entered the race as a Republican after attending evangelist Franklin Graham’s “Decision America” tour stop at the West Virginia Capitol in 2016.
Huddleston said Graham’s message that Christians would do well for themselves by spending less time in the public square complaining about perceived injustices, and more time seeking public office, where they can put their values to work for the good of the community, resonated with him.
A seat on the county commission offered him “the best opportunity to impact the community,” he said.
Huddleston, a 26-year resident of Kanawha County, said he wanted to bring change to a county commission that’s had “the same leadership in office for quite a long time, while the county’s population continues to drop and the opioid crisis gets bigger.”
By the end of October, Huddleston had spent $2,767 to operate his self-described “shoestring campaign,” compared to $115,488 spent by Carper, according to pre-general election financial filings.
Before being elected to the county commission, Carper served as Charleston’s police chief and public safety director, followed by a stint as an assistant Kanawha County prosecutor.