Henson first sheriff re-elected to third term in 206 years

By Julie Fann
STAR STAFF
jfann@starhq.com

  
John Henson, re-elected to serve as Carter County's Sheriff, will be the first sheriff in 206 years to serve three consecutive terms, according to Sheriff's Department spokesmen. According to Henson, securing the majority of votes in all 21 precincts was a bit surprising.
   "It surprised me a little bit to carry every precinct. I figured it might be a little weak down in the lower end, but it's a good feeling to win," Henson said during a post-election gathering at the Carter County Highway Department Thursday night.
   Henson carried a near landslide victory with 8,084 votes, not including the Little Milligan district, while his chief contender in the race, Kenneth Potter, received support from 2,571 Carter County voters despite a large campaign war chest.
   "You don't usually elect someone that's run once and lost, regardless of how much money he spends. It's the job you do that counts. Like I said, money don't always win you the election, and this is a proven fact here, that I have beat money," Henson said.
   Potter's financial disclosure statement prior to the election reported total contributions and expenditures of $15,638, an amount 2-1/2 times larger than that of Henson, who reported total contributions of $7,625 and $7,160 in total expenditures.
   Henson said he wasn't shaken by negative campaigning conducted by his opponents either. "There's been a lot of rumors told about me that were not true. That can cause a lot of problems in an election. You've got to talk positive. If you can't back it up, you'd better not say it," Henson said.
   Six years after leaving the Carter County Sheriff's Department as the No. 2 officer, Potter launched an aggressive campaign to win the office he narrowly lost in 1996. Henson defeated Potter then, by just over 300 votes, in a special run-off election held after the retirement of then-sheriff Paul Peters.
   "Really, a man runs one time and gets beat in this county, he's usually done for. I mean, you don't usually elect someone that's run once and lost," Henson said.
   Henson has spent over 30 years with the Carter County Sheriff's Department, serving for 25 years as a road deputy and patrol commander before being elected to sheriff.
   His primary goal for the next four years, he said, is to complete a project to build four police substations across Carter County. The framework has already been implemented for a Stoney Creek substation, as well as substations in Roan Mountain and Watauga.
   "I want to get more substations in the county. I believe that's the answer to a lot of our problems. The more people you get out in the community, the better you're going to keep crime down. My goal is to give people the best law enforcement possible for the lowest cost possible," Henson said.
   Since winning the sheriff's office in 1996, Henson said he has created a long list of achievements.
   All of the department's road deputies have been certified through the state law enforcement training academy; the department's fleet of patrol cars has been upgraded, and additional personnel have been added in drug enforcement, court security, court process service, and litter control.
   Henson's administration has placed D.A.R.E. law officers at all four county high schools to heighten security. He also added another drug enforcement officer during his term to work with the First Judicial Drug Task Force.
   He said the department also had issued new .40-caliber Glock handguns to all deputies. A move Henson felt offered more safety and better protection for officers.
   Henson has steered the county's public safety efforts through a series of natural disasters including the devastating flood and blizzard in 1998. He also spearheaded an effort to remediate a small graveyard in Roan Mountain after a mudslide unearthed several coffins.
   "It's good to know that the people of Carter County are behind me and backing me and supporting me in what I do. It makes me do a lot better job by having the support of the people behind me," Henson said.
   "That's why I work so hard at being sheriff for the people of Carter County because I believe in 'em. They've never let me down, and I support 'em wholeheartedly. I promise them that I'll not let them down, and I'd just like to thank the people of Carter County."