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McDuffie ready for next four years

POSTED: August 8, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, right, and wife Wanda are all smiles as they go over the early returns from Tuesday's primary. McDuffie beat challenger Rick Gossett in the Republican primary by a 2-to-1 margin and with no Democratic opposition was re-elected to another four-year term.

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Effingham County voters are returning Jimmy McDuffie to office by a resounding margin.

The six-year Effingham County sheriff fended off a stern challenge from former Effingham sheriff’s investigator and current Bloomingdale Police Chief Rick Gossett, taking nearly two-thirds of the ballots cast.

“The people of Effingham County have watched and seen what we’ve done for a number of years,” McDuffie said after garnering 3,511 of the 5,333 votes cast. “The deputies get amazed at the people who came up and thank us for what we’ve done.”

McDuffie campaigned on the strides the department has made, particularly in its efforts to curb the methamphetamine trade.

“We have a proactive drug team that’s done a good job and a community that has said, ‘we’re tired of this,’” he said. “When you get those two together, you’ve got a success.”

Gossett also lauded McDuffie and the department’s crackdown on drugs but said during the campaign he could do
more and do it more efficiently with a regional approach.

“We tried to do this with some dignity and keep our heads up and do the right things,” Gossett said. “I’m comfortable with the way we did things. I think we worked hard.”

Gossett’s campaign platform was centered on recruiting and retaining deputies, including a policy of fair pay and treatment. He also espoused establishing precincts, along with a citizens police academy and a citizens advisory board.

He also said that he didn’t seek the role of sheriff’s candidate.

“So many people want change,” he said. “This wasn’t my idea. I was approached by several people.”

The low turnout, particularly in the southern precincts, dismayed Gossett.

Gossett said he wasn’t as hurt for himself by the loss as he was for his supporters in his first foray into politics.

“It hurts me for all the people who put in this hard work,” he said. “There are so many other factors involved. I really don’t know what went wrong.”

The election wasn’t about friendships but about who was best for the job, according to Gossett.

“I congratulate Jimmy and wish him luck,” he said. “I hope he will at least look at some things I had to say, because they are the right things to do.”

McDuffie said he will revamp some of the department’s organization and already has a stack of applications on his desk, though he’s at full staff right now.

“I think we’ve got some good folks,” he said. “We’ve got some of the best people we’ve ever had here. We’ve lost some good people.”

McDuffie raised the starting salaries for deputies, sacrificing a handful of positions to do so, and has plans to raise the pay for jail employees.

“We’ve got to balance what the budget is to what the taxpayers can afford,” he said. “I have to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money.”

The department has actively pursued grants and will go after grants to help establish a traffic unit.

“We’ve got traffic issues in this county,” McDuffie said.

He also aims to start a work-release program, but there isn’t room at the jail currently to do that.

“It’s not just our job to lock them up and throw away the key,” McDuffie said. “We also have to keep these folks away from being recidivists.”

Had he won, Gossett said he would have spent a maximum of eight years in office before retiring.

“Instead of retiring in eight years, I’ll retire in six, like I planned to do,” he said.

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