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Longtime commissioners near end of county service

9/6/2012

By TIM UNRUH

By TIM UNRUH

Special to The Hays Daily News

OBERLIN -- Losing wasn't a consideration to Ralph Unger in the Aug. 7 Republican primary, and he admittedly was disappointed after Sid Metcalf prevailed by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

"I didn't expect it," said Unger, 67.

A Decatur County commissioner for 40 years -- among the longest serving in Kansas history -- Unger had bested opposition in either the primary and general election or both in eight of 10 bids for re-election. He had no opponents in two of those election years.

"I won 10 primaries and 10 generals, but I didn't win the 11th," he said.

Unger joins 20-year Jewell County Commissioner Hooley Alcorn in bowing out of elected office this fall. Alcorn, 87, decided not to file for re-election.

"I think 20 years is enough," said Alcorn, whose real first name is Doyle. A Republican, he first ran for office as a Democrat to buck a long-standing trend.

"I wanted to prove to the people in Jewell County that a Democrat could win an election," Alcorn said.

Republican Mark Fleming and Democrat Jim Stone will vie for Alcorn's seat in the Nov. 6 general election. The old commissioner isn't endorsing one or the other.

"Both are good friends. I just kinda let it ride with that," Alcorn said.

Alcorn referred to Unger as "a pretty good ol' boy, a good, hard worker and a good, honest guy."

He and his wife, Pat Alcorn, struck up a friendship with Ralph and Norma Unger during their years of serving in various capacities on the Kansas Association of Counties and other state boards.

"I love that man and his wife," Pat Alcorn said. "I don't know what he's done for Decatur County, but I know one thing -- he's all for the people."

Unger could identify no issues that caused his defeat in the primary. Both candidates were born and raised in the community. Unger is a member of the Decatur Community High School Class of 1962, and Metcalf is in the Class of 1961.

"It wasn't anything that was public, other than I'm a 40-year incumbent," Unger said. "In political stuff, when you agree with people, some only remember a few weeks. If they disagree, they remember forever."

Metcalf, 68, said he began thinking about running for office in 2011, and he figures change was the only reason he won the primary.

"I didn't have any axes to grind or grudges to squelch," Metcalf said.

He tested opinions by mentioning a possible run and found there was heavy support.

"They were encouraging me in a serious manner to run. 'We need some fresh blood, some fresh ideas.' I think that's the only feeling people had that I talked to," Metcalf said. "Nobody was mad at him. There were no issues. Apparently, a lot of them felt it was time for a change."

Metcalf will have no opposition printed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Involved in a farming operation, he has been a spray pilot for 32 years.