Tuesday, May 30, 2006

TOP STORY >> Roberson, Martin rematch

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: It may not be a Thrilla’ in Manila or a Rumble in the Jungle, but if past experience is a predictor, the third matchup between long-time opponents Jim Roberson and Charlie Martin promises to be exciting.

With their primary wins last week, the stage is set for a third consecutive spittin’ match between Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson and the man he wrested the hat from in 2002, Charlie Martin.

Roberson, 58, easily won the Repub-lican primary last week with 1,625 votes, outdistancing Keith Butler (178 votes) and John W. Staley (397).

Butler, a Lonoke High School graduate, studied electrical engineering and works as a food distribution route manager. Staley, 26, is a Jacksonville policeman and an Austin resident.

Martin, 57, had a serious challenge in the Democratic primary from Sam Cham-berlain, Jr., 49, a seniors master sergeant with the Arkansas Air Guard and husband of Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain.

Martin won the primary 2,356 to 2,215.

Both men were at the Lonoke County Courthouse, copying voting results from the giant total board during the counting. Although both men say they are friends, Chamberlain refused to say he would endorse Martin against Roberson in the November election.

Chamberlain, in his first political race, said he’s learned a lot, he’s young and he’ll be back.

If past elections are any indication, the race between Roberson and Martin could be contentious.

Last time, Roberson accused Martin’s brother David of picking a fight with him and arrested him.

David Martin died in a nursing facility this month, a few days before the election, his brother said.

Charlie Martin served as the Lonoke County sheriff for six years before Roberson retired him in 2002.
Both men say they stand on their records.

Martin started his law-enforcement career in 1971 as a part-time Jacksonville police officer, later working full-time for eight years. In 1988, Martin became a Lonoke County deputy and won the sheriff’s race in 1996.

Roberson said that on his watch, he has increased the number of deputies and the quality of the patrol fleet.

“When I came in, I only had a pile of keys and one old computer,” he said. His department now has all new computers.

He said he’s proud of the programs he’s started, such as the Senior Citizen Awareness program, which makes a computerized well-being call every day, said Roberson.

It replaces a similar system that was not automated.

The sheriff’s office also provides and installs child-safety seats free and has received grants to pay some deputies overtime to work nothing but DWI cases.

Typically in these elections, Martin gets a lot of support from the south part of the county, while Roberson gets his winning edge from Cabot, a Republican stronghold.