Lowndes County circuit clerk candidates addressed the Columbus Exchange Club September 22. It was the Exchange Club’s second candidate forum; last week candidates for District 1 supervisor were featured.
Republican challenger Justin Shelton and incumbent Haley Salazar were each given about six minutes to speak.
Shelton spoke first.
“I have been in the export business for 10-15 years,” he said. “I’ve got some anonymity in this town because not many people know what I do. The glossy version is that we buy and sell goods and we distribute them to customers overseas. The real version is that I’m a modern day Sanford and Son. We buy junk. That’s the bottom line. We’ve been successful in good economic times and bad economic times. I’m a good steward of my money, I watch my pennies and I run my business really really close to the vest.
“I was just talking to the people at my table about how timing is everything,” Shelton said. “I thought it was the right time to run. I’m 37 years old. I’ve got two children. I thought it was the right time. I hate to say the canned thing that everybody expects politicians to say, but I want to improve my county. I also want to improve myself. I thought politics was the way I could do that. My father is a politician, he’s always been a politician, he’ll be a politician until the day he dies. I am not my father, but we emulate what our parents do. I guess if he had been a welder I would have been one, too.
“I appreciate the current clerk for all her service, and I don’t want anybody to think that I harbor her any ill will,” Shelton said. “I don’t want anybody to think that. This is the position that I wanted to run for. I’ve got a cousin who has been circuit clerk in Lafayette County as long as Mahala’s been circuit clerk of Lowndes so I know a little bit about the job. I think I would bring energy to the job as well as youth and passion. I appreciate the service that (Salazar) has given, but I think it’s time for a change. We need some younger people. Every day on the campaign trail I have people tell me we need young folks to get involved. I hear that from everybody. Here I am, and I’m getting involved. I just need your will to get me elected.”
Salazar followed, describing the duties of her office.
“You’ve elected me for five terms and it is an honor to serve,” she said. “I get calls all the time from people who don’t know what my office handles. As circuit clerk I have the responsibility of handling all the records of circuit and county court and protecting the privacy of grand jury documents and court records. We have to insure that the courts move smoothly. I assist the court in jury summons and jury qualification. I issue marriage licenses and maintain those records. We have those original records back to the 1800s. As registrar I am the chief election official and assist the Democratic and Republican executive committees in the primary elections and the election commissioners in conducting all general and special elections. During my tenure we’ve never had a contested election in this county. It’s my job to maintain and protect the voter rolls and issue the absentee ballots and train poll works for all the elections. I prepare a budget for the board of supervisors every year to tell them what it will take to operate the county court, circuit court, my office and elections for the county. That comes to a little over a million dollars.
“When I came into office there wasn’t a computer in there,” she said. “We have successfully automated virtually all aspects of the office. During the past term of office we’ve been updating the web page and making our judgment rolls accessible to attorneys over the internet. We’ve moved the office as part of the courthouse renovations and we’ve cleaned up all the records. We finally have enough space to store everything and to get ready for all the elections, and now we have a waiting room for the defendants. We’re very proud of the new office.
“We’ve done a lot during my tenure, but there are more things to come that require experience, dedication and continuing commitment,” she said. “The US Justice Department has already approved the county’s redistricting plan which will have to be implemented before the elections next spring. This includes changing all the voter address ranges in the computer and notifying these voters of the different precincts. Then the legislature is expected to hand down a redistricting plan, which will have to be implemented, and then there may be special elections if they court rules that they have to run on their new lines. That requires someone who will hit the ground running. It’s not going to be a year to learn. I would ask that you keep my experience in mind.”