At the law offices of Jim and Stephanie Shortt on Locust Street, the building that once housed The Floyd Press, the county’s new Commonwealth’s Attorney accepted congratulations from friends and supporters.
A mile away, at the Rebekah Lodge on U.S. 221 next to the current offices of the county newspaper, shell-shocked Republicans shook their heads and wondered what happened to the once-vaunted GOP machine that has controlled Floyd County politics since the Civil War.
Stephanie Shortt (left) made political history Tuesday, sweeping every precinct in a devastating defeat of the Republican’s hand-picked and imported candidate, Eric Branscom, signalling a dramatic shift in county politics.
She is the first woman to win the job, although she served in the post through an interim appointment in 2005 and 2006. Shortt led a non-Republican surge that put a second Democrat on the county board of supervisors and saw two Democrats carry the county in the delegate and senate races (although the Republican Senate candidate would prevail when the vote come in from other counties).
Among Republican candidates in contested county races, the GOP could celebrate only the narrow victory of Virgel Allen over Cynthia Babb in the Little River Supervisor’s race. Democrat Bill Gardner easily dispatched James "Jolly" Webb in what was once the solid Republican Burk’s Fork District and Shortt, running as an independent, crushed Branscom is every district, including GOP stronghold Indian Valley.
While Republicans celebrated Allen’s victory, they recognized that Babb’s lackluster campaign helped them salvage that sole contested race. They hoped for a better showing from Branscom, brought in from Montgomery County to displace out-of-favor incumbent Gordon Hannett. Branscom easily dispatched Hannett in a GOP primary where voters tossed out every incumbent on the ballot but Shortt put together a coalition of Democrats, independents and Republicans to stomp Branscom at the polls. Her victory, along with that of Gardner and the strong showing of Democrats Ferguson and Reynolds in the statehouse races, could be the beginning of the end of a Republican stranglehold on county politics.
Shortt’s tenure as interim Commonwealth’s Attorney during Hanett’s tour of duty in Iraq with the Army Reserves and his controversial, and failed, legal challenge to her appointment proved to be campaign assets. She won a high-profile jury trial and a life sentence against a Copper Hill man who assaulted his wife with a hatchet and won the support of county deputies who appreciated her hard-nosed approach to the job. Deputies praised her for seeking their advice on prosecutions and sentences.