Longtime Huntington County politician Kathy Branham, now a county commissioner, is not running for re-election this year.
That leaves her 2nd District seat open, and two men are vying for the Republican nomination to replace her.
Huntington County voters must also choose a between two men in a Republican primary race for Huntington County coroner.
A seat on the countys board of commissioners is a four-year responsibility and pays $18,781 a year. The Huntington County coroner also serves a four-year term, with a two-term limit, and makes $12,947 a year.
Current Huntington County Coroner Phil Zahm was picked by a Huntington County Republican caucus to finish out the remaining two years of former coroner Leon Hurlburts term after he was elected county commissioner in November 2010.
Zahm, an application engineer at Shuttleworth, was Hurlburts chief deputy and has been with the coroners office since 2001.
I think that families need someone thats honest, and has compassion, Zahm said. Especially when youre dealing with a death.
Zahm sees his role, if elected, as the one who speaks for the deceased.
Zahm is particularly concerned with the alarming rise in the countys deaths from prescription drug overdoses. The number of deaths spiked from just two in 2010 to nine in 2011.
So far this year, Zahm has dealt with six.
If hes elected, Zahm intends to put together a task force – made up of emergency personnel, social services and religious leaders – to try to tackle the issue.
Hes looking for input on how to identify those battling prescription drug addiction.
Zahm would like to, somehow, provide a safe place for these addictions to be dealt with, then give back to the community when they are sober.
Even if he is not picked in the May primary, Zahm feels so strongly about the issue he intends to put the task force together anyway.
A reserve deputy with the Huntington County Sheriffs Department, Zahm is certified in medical legal death investigation because of his work with the coroners office. He also retired from the Indiana Army National Guard, having been a first sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I feel like I bring a lot of life skills, Zahm said. The compassion that I show; I have always taken it personal. I want that family to know that I care about what happened to them.
Kevin Patrick, current Huntington County Community School Board president, is looking to take over the coroners post.
Also a longtime reserve officer with the Huntington County Sheriffs Department, Patrick said his interest was piqued by the work he saw Hurlburt do, particularly in his education efforts.
While Zahms mindset is to speak for the dead, Patrick said his will be awareness.
I see that our kids today are going to be our future leaders tomorrow, he said. The more time that we spend on trying to make our kids better, the better our community will be.
Like Zahm, Patrick is concerned with the growing prescription drug abuse and overdose problem in the county.
He worries though, that some of Hurlburts work in educating the community on issues such as safer driving for young people is being put aside by Zahm to focus solely on death investigation.
Patrick also wants to address the problem of youth suicides, something he sees through his work on the Youth Services Board.
Death investigation is not the entire focus of the job, Patrick said. (I want to) help people to realize that there are better decisions and to help them make (them).
If Patrick makes it through the primary, he would have to step down as a member of the school board, so he jokingly suggests that all those dissatisfied with his work there go vote for him in May.
The fastest way to get rid of me as president is to vote for me for coroner, he said.
Former Huntington Mayor Terry Abbett wants his old job back, this time the county commissioners seat he held for four years. With Kathy Branham leaving the 2nd District seat, its up for grabs.
He misses the political arena, having enjoyed his 16 years in various elected offices.
I think the competition is good, Abbett said. Ive been elected four times. I used to hold this job, and I think Im the best qualified for the job.
Abbett sees the biggest issue facing the board of commissioners, like everywhere else in government now, is spending money in the best way.
Money is a big issue, he said, adding there seems to be less coming in than there was when he was commissioner 12 years ago.
Abbett believes the past few boards of commissioners have done a good job in the years since he left for the mayors office.
I would like to continue it, he said. I am able to plan better and be better for Huntington County. I think the county is more involved in economic development than when I was there.
With more going on in the county in the area of economic development, Abbett wants to keep the momentum going.
I feel like I am the most experienced and the most qualified for this job because of the 16 years that I have in government, he said.
But Larry Buzzard held that 2nd District seat too, albeit just for a short time. He held the post in early 2008 when then-Commissioner Steve Updike was elected mayor of the city of Huntington.
Buzzard lost to Branham in the May 2008 primary. But even though he wasnt there long, Buzzard liked the work as county commissioner.
Politics obviously interests me, he said. Its what I think about when I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning.
He said he enjoys the work and the sense of accomplishment he feels when he is able to make things better for the community.
I think I can bring some things to the table and make Huntington County a better place, Buzzard said.
County commissioners are the countys chief executives – with responsibilities for the physical assets of the community, such as the courthouse, the jail and the roads.
But they also set policy for county employees, making good relationships important, Buzzard said.
Having worked in business for two Fortune 500 companies and running his own business, Buzzard said he has a good grasp of business policies and practices.
And he considers himself a true conservative.
I believe in those Republican principles of less government, more freedom and holding down costs for the taxpayer, he said.
Buzzard just opened his own bike shop, so hes campaigning as much as time allows. But working as a commissioner, as one-third of the commission, flexibility is key.
You not only have to have ideas, but you have to be able to come to some form of consensus about what is best, he said. A sense of cooperation with the other two commissioners is critical.