Johnson ousted as Cass County auditor

bbashioum@demo-mo.comAugust 8, 2014 

Voters appeared ready to put a new man into the county auditor’s office as a result of Cass County’s primary election.

In perhaps the most hotly contested race Aug. 5, Ryan Wescoat grabbed the victory among Republican voters, capturing more than 57 percent of the vote against incumbent Ron Johnson.

“I think the Republican voters voted for professionalism and accountability, and I think they wanted a change,” Wescoat said.

Wescoat garnered 6,482 votes while Johnson picked up 4,862 votes.

Should Wescoat prevail in November against Democrat Bill Smith, he will be running an office that he has some familiarity with.

Several years ago, Wescoat worked as Johnson’s chief deputy at the county.

But his time working under the auditor didn’t end well, and he was ultimately fired by Johnson.

What led to the firing is a matter of dispute.

Johnson said Wescoat passed along a document he knew to be not “a true and faithful affidavit” to a county commissioner so the county could get federal reimbursement.

Wescoat said he sent the affidavit but did so at the request of the commissioner, and the document was actually the property of the commission anyway.

He has said he merely got in the middle of a fight between his boss, Johnson, and then-commissioner Brian Baker.

“What I learned about working with Ron — you definitely have to stay on your toes and it’s important to stand up for your beliefs and stand up to do what’s right,” Wescoat said. “I always operate with integrity.”

Wescoat said his victory margin of 1,620 votes shows that hard work pays off.

“If things work out well in November, I want to make sure that the taxpayers’ dollars are watched after. I know that there have been some positive policies and procedures implemented. We want to continue that work.”

Wescoat said Tuesday night that he planned to take at least one day off before hitting the campaign trail again.

“I’m going to take tomorrow off and play a round of golf. I haven’t played golf all summer,” he said. “After that, we’re going to stay with what works and meet people on their porch, face-to-face, and have conversations. Hopefully that carries us through November.”

Division 3 Associate Circuit Judge candidate Stacey Lett also won victory by a significant margin against incumbent Meryl Lange, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jay Nixon in January 2013. Lange succeeded William Collins after his election as circuit judge.

“I’m humbled by it all,” Lett said Tuesday night.

Lett, an attorney who now serves as Raymore’s municipal judge, gathered about 63 percent of the vote to most likely take the bench in 2015. She has no opponent in the general election.

Lett collected 7,510 votes, while Lange brought in 4,342.

“I am surprised by the numbers and feel very fortunate,” Lett said. “I am blessed.”

Lett says she hopes to continue “the legacy that we have there now with the current associate circuit court judges in all the other divisions.”

“I look forward to working extremely hard, holding to my word, which is my attempt to help the workload and make the docketing lesser volume — and give it everything I can,” Lett said. “I am very passionate about this.”

Her background includes criminal defense, traffic, DWI/DUI, personal injury and family law work.

She is also a proponent of specialized treatment courts.

“It’s an opportunity to break patterns and it can be very useful, especially with overcrowding in our prison populations,” Lett said.

Lett said her campaign required an extreme amount of hard work, noting that being a judicial candidate has its unique challenges.

“It’s hard to convey your feelings and what you believe in, because as a judicial candidate, you can’t provide what our platform is, or give opinions,” Lett said. “That’s been difficult when people have asked questions that you can’t directly answer.”

Rounding out the final contested race at the county level, Presiding Commissioner Jeff Cox, a Republican, took a major step in an effort to keep his job for four more years.

Cox, with about 59 percent of the vote, beat challenger Dave Morris by 1,994 votes.

While acknowledging he will have general election opponents in November, Cox said he plans to continue running on his record, as he did this summer.

“We’re halfway there,” he said. “I think we’ve taken the county in the right direction and I look forward to continuing that for another four years if the voters choose to give me the opportunity to do so.”

Over the course of his campaign, Cox has said the issues he supports as presiding commissioner aren’t always flashy, like the failed broadband Internet service and a bio-generation power plant that were conceived before he took office.

Both projects ran into money and legal problems, and Cox killed them shortly after he took office in January 2013.

Cox said the county is now back to basics: law enforcement, zoning, codes, and roads and bridges.

Those are the things the county ought to be doing, he said at a recent candidate forum. He said the commission is now focused on those core services and being more transparent to the public.

Cox said he feels confident going into the general election season, and plans to stick with running on his record.

He will now face former Belton mayor Phil Duncan, a Democrat, and Lora Young, a Libertarian.

“I am very proud of the fact that despite the negative campaign tactics we faced this election cycle, that we kept our message positive and focused on the great things happening in Cass County,” Cox said. “Now we look ahead to the general election in November, where I look forward to continuing to run on my record of bringing strong conservative values, sound spending priorities and fiscal responsibility to the Cass County Commission, and bringing positive change to Cass County government.”

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