When John Booth says he is no “Johnny-come-lately” in local politics, he has a record of 36 years of service backing him up. Booth spent all of those years as a member of Mount Vernon City Council, 14 as council president, before retiring from city office at the end of 2011.
He is making his third bid for county commissioner as a Democrat in a county that usually leans heavily toward the Republican ticket. In fact, Booth is the only Democrat on the Nov. 6 ballot seeking a county office, but that does not blunt his enthusiasm in the least.
“I’m passionate about this,” he says. “I have a lot of experience serving the people of Mount Vernon, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people. I would be able to work very well with the other two commissioners (Republicans Roger Reed and Teresa Bemiller), and all I ask is that people judge me not as a Democrat but as a man, and based on the job I can do for them.”
Reed is not up for re-election until 2014 and Bemiller is running unopposed, but Booth is part of an intriguing three-candidate race as he opposes Republican Thom Collier of Mount Vernon and Independent Jim Hughes of Gambier. Like Booth, both Collier and Hughes have crowded resumes covering both the private and public sectors.
“I have nothing bad whatsoever to say about my opponents,” Booth says. “They are both fine men, but I think I have better all-around experience than they do.”
Booth believes that it is imperative to maintain effective county services, particularly police and fire protection, but at the same time acknowledges the challenge of difficult financial times.
“I served as chairman of the finance committee on city council during some very tough years,” he says. “Margaret Ann Ruhl (now a State Representative) was treasurer at the time, and we had to make some difficult cuts. That’s not an easy thing to do: It affects peoples’ lives. But you have to be able to make hard decisions.”
With regard to specific actions he may favor on financial line items, Booth says that “It’s hard to say from the outside,” but that he is confident he can lend valuable expertise to the county.
“You have to have the budget numbers in front of you to really know what you’re talking about,” he says, “but one thing is sure: We can’t print money, and we need to spend what we have wisely.”
Booth, a Knox County native, retired after a 40-year career in local industry. He and his wife, Sharon, have five adult children and live in Mount Vernon. He lost his previous bids for the county commissioner seat in 2006 and 2008.
“When I retired from council in December, I just thought it was time to do something else,” he says. “Commissioner is a job I would really like to have. I provided a lot of service to the people of Mount Vernon and hope to do the same for the entire county.
“I grew up in a big family. I’ve raised five children, and I know what it is to pinch a penny and try to get the most out of every dollar. I feel like we left Mount Vernon a better place when I retired from council, and I want Knox County to be even better for my children than it has been for me. I’m hoping the voters will give me an opportunity to work in that direction.”
Booth ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in March, and knows that his real challenge is to carry the normally Democratic-friendly vote in Mount Vernon while carving out enough support in rural parts of the county to outpoll Collier and Hughes.
“I know this is an uphill battle,” he says, “but I look at it as an opportunity to serve rather than a job. I work well with people, and I would certainly work well with the other commissioners to find ways to save money.”
Although he is retired from his long careers in local industry and on City Council, Booth isn’t letting any grass grow beneath his feet. Along with his campaign activities, his civic activities include serving as board chairman of both Knox Area Transit and the Salvation Army of Knox County.
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