Fewer than half of Cullman County’s 51 beat boxes had been counted Tuesday evening when Democratic incumbent probate judge Leah Patterson Lust ceded her bid for a second term to her former employee, Republican challenger Tammy Brown.
Brown showed strong early returns shortly after the polls had closed, and that trend continued as more beat boxes were reported through the night. When all the votes had been counted, Brown had taken 65 percent of the vote. In a heavy general election turnout, Brown finished the night with a resounding 21,029 votes, compared with Lust’s 11,572.
With the victory, Brown toppled one of the last remaining Democrats to hold a current office in Cullman County.
That was a distinction Brown was happy to bear Tuesday evening, accepting the congratulations of a largely Republican crowd at the Cullman civic center, where watchers gathered to monitor the incoming local election returns.
“When I left my job on Jan. 6, working as chief clerk for [Cullman County revenue commissioner] Barry Willingham, I set out then to run a good, clean, positive campaign — and here I am today, as the next probate judge of Cullman County,” said Brown. “I cannot tell the people of Cullman County how much I appreciate it.
Lust, who passed up an appearance at the civic center Tuesday evening, expressed gratitude to local voters for entrusting the office to her leadership — even for a single term.
“The people of Cullman have spoken,” Lust said by phone. “One of the many great things about our country is our election process, and, with every election, the citizens have the opportunity to direct the paths that our community will take. The opportunity to serve as Cullman County’s probate judge has been the biggest honor of my life, and I feel especially blessed to have been placed in this position for the last six years.”
Brown, whom Lust challenged late in the campaign with character-based allegations pertaining to her handling of funds while serving as chief probate clerk, said her convincing win represented a measure of voters’ impatience with negative campaigning at the local level.
“I have had a lot of comments and phone calls from people [indicating] that the way I ran my campaign reflected on the kind of leader they know that I’ll be,” she said. “Since I had been working in that office since 1987, so many people knew me and knew my character, and they knew that it would be good.
“I am humbled by everything — the people who stepped up to the plate and helped me; their hard work; their support; their votes. I have been helped, more than I could have imagined, by so many people. I’m afraid to start naming names, because there are so many people who’ve helped me that I’m sure I’ll forget somebody.”
Lust said she’s optimistic about the future, though her mind will still be on the probate office until her term ends early next year.
“I will continue to serve as Cullman County’s probate judge until mid-January, when Tammy Brown will take office,” she said. “I believe, in life, it is always important to remember that even unwanted change brings opportunity. I am eager to see what my future holds.”
Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.