News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012
AIKEN, S.C. -- The race is on for Aiken County Probate Judge, and it's a heated contest -- and some say a dirty contest.
"I don't think anybody ever thought about the probate race until a Republican, for the first time in 24 years, decided to challenge a Democrat,” said Jane Page Thompson, the Republican challenger on the ticket.
Thompson is a realtor in Aiken, but she’s also an outspoken activist who fights for government accountability and her fiscal conservative beliefs.
In this election, she’s facing Democrat incumbent Judge Sue H. Roe.
"I decided early on, that I was not going to allow her to demean my person dignity or the dignity of the Aiken County Probate Court,” Judge Roe said of her challenger.
After serving for 28 years in this office, Judge Roe says things are running smoothly. She says it's a modern office, where taking care of Aiken County citizens is the most important thing. She says she serves her citizens without regard for political or religious affiliation, race or economic standing. She says her service to the county has been with fairness and dignity.
"My one claim is service to the people,” said Judge Roe.
Thompson, however, shares that same passion.
"I truly believe that I will serve Aiken County with every ounce of my energy,” she said.
The fiscal conservative says the court runs around $500,000 deficits each year.
"There's more to the picture. I will refer you to the letter from our County Administrator Mr. Clay Killian,” Roe said.
Killian tells us, she's right in that regard. Offices like the probate judge aren't required to break even or turn a profit; however, they’re required to meet the needs of the people any way possible.
But Thompson says her goal is to bring in more revenue. She says she'd offer wedding services, office hours in North Augusta and Wagener and an online interface for payments and documents, too.
News 12 asked Roe if these are good recommendations and if they’re realistic.
“Totally unrealistic,” said Roe. “And she's going to cut staff, and she's going to do these things, and she's going to cut the costs to the people of the county. I just have no earthly idea what she's thinking."
But Thompson, again, sees things differently.
"I believe that if you work hard, and you dedicate yourself to the people that elect you, anything is possible,” she said.
Roe, a Democrat, has found support with some Republicans. The Board of Realtors, which Thompson serves on, failed to endorse either candidate, but a straw poll actually showed more internal support for Roe.
"Well, if good Republicans want to vote for a Democrat, they might as well vote for Obama too,” she said.
Thompson says she would open up the office to wedding ceremonies to bring in additional revenue.
Roe says decades ago, she decided this was unwise. She says given the tight quarters of the probate office, holding joyous weddings next to, perhaps, grieving families would be a poor decision.
Thompson, however, says it’s all about scheduling, and she says it’s simply a money-making tactic that can no longer be ignored.
Thompson proposes an Internet page, protected by a username and password, where Aiken County residents can keep up with where the judge is, file documents and pay fees with credit cards.
Roe, however, says she believes in privacy in the Internet age, and she says she wouldn't be comfortable putting personal information of her citizens online.
Ultimately, Roe says, in a new letter, that “the issues being responded to were an attempt by my opponent to divert attention from the question ‘who is the qualified candidate?’” She says, one day, she does plan to retire, but giving up the office right now to Thompson would be a “travesty.”
As for Thompson, she says this paradigm shift in the probate office will bring the court into this century. She says her job, if she’s elected as probate judge, would to be to leave her office to come to the people, because that’s what the purpose of the office is.