MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 14, 2012

Two Dems running for county clerk

Incumbent cites experience; challenger touts efficiency

— Muskogee County’s race for county clerk shaped up Friday as a two-woman contest pitting two local Democrats.

It will be a short campaign season for both women, who drew no Republican challengers. The outcome will be decided at the June 26 primary unless one of the candidates decides to withdraw before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Incumbent Dianna Cope was appointed in October to serve former County Clerk Karen Anderson’ unexpired term. Anderson hand-picked Cope, a 29-year veteran of the office, as her successor.

Tanya Staggs, who declared her candidacy Wednesday, touted her management experience as one of her strong suits. Staggs said she plans to draw upon that experience to streamline the office and make it more user-friendly.

“I really believe I have a lot to bring to the county clerk’s office,” Staggs said. “I believe my management experience will facilitate an office that is more user-friendly and more streamlined. I really want to do what I can to make it run better.”

Cope cited her 29 years of experience at the county clerk’s office as her top selling point. Cope said she worked her way up through the ranks before serving as the office’s purchasing agent before her appointment.

“I feel the Board of County Commissioners appointed me to this position because they believe in me and the work I’ve done,” Cope said. “I’ve served the county for 29 years, and I’m running on my experience and work record.”

Cope said she believes the office needs a leader who has experience. Cope also said she would like to continue the projects she has begun, such as scanning all the land records to a digitized format that can be viewed by computer.

Staggs said her success as a retail manager — she took over management of what once was an under-performing Office Depot in Muskogee and turned it around — would “translate into success as a public servant at the county level.”

“Hard work is not anything I am scared of,” Staggs said. “This is a challenge I am absolutely looking forward to, serving the community at the county level.”

All five incumbents holding Muskogee County offices up for election this year drew opponents.

District 2 Commissioner Stephen Wright of Porum attracted three Democratic challengers. Wright faces Ronnie Pevehouse, whom he defeated in 2008, Roscoe Duke, another 2008 contender, and Mark Breedlove, a District 2 employee in the June 26 primary.

Five candidates — four Democrats and a Republican — filed for the opportunity to compete against three-term Sheriff Charles Pearson. The sheriff’s Democratic opponents include Muskogee Police Investigator Lonnie Bemo, Sheriff’s Deputy Eddie Walker, former insurance investigator Jimmy Lee, and Emman Lorin Drywater, all of Muskogee.

Challenger Roger Lee, a former city and county law enforcer and the only Republican to file this year for a Muskogee County office, will face the winner of the Democratic primary. This is Lee’s third bid for the sheriff’s office, as he competed unsuccessfully against Pearson in 2004 and 2008.

Former Muskogee County Emergency Management Director Eugene Blankenship declared his candidacy Wednesday, challenging Court Clerk Paula Sexton. She was elected from a field of six in 2002 and won by default in 2004 and 2008 after drawing no challengers.

Blankenship, citing the embezzlement of more than a half-million dollars in 2008, said the office needs better oversight than what it has seen the past few years. Sexton defended her record, claiming credit for exposing the scheme.

The contest for county treasurer pits incumbent Kelly Garrett and Muskogee City Councilor Randy Howard. Garrett was appointed a year ago to fill the unexpired term of the late Glen Scott.

Candidates have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to withdraw should they decide to do so. If all candidates remain in their respective races, the contests for treasurer, county clerk and court clerk will be decided June 26 at the conclusion of the primary election.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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