Smith Wins Sheriff’s Race Over Dukes

Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office deputy Jim Smith (foreground) and his supporters celebrate Smith winning the Republican primary for sheriff Tuesday at Tippy Creek Winery. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.

Starting his campaign for county sheriff on Memorial Day weekend in 2021, Jim Smith initially faced a lot of doubters.

They said it would be hard beating an incumbent, raising money and getting supporters.

“As we got our message out, those things stopped,” he said in a telephone interview after winning the Republican primary over incumbent Kyle Dukes Tuesday.

Smith received 5,651 votes (52.48%) to Dukes’ 5,117 (47.52%) for the Republican nomination for sheriff. No Democrat or third party has filed to run for the office as of Tuesday.

“I’ve got to start with thanking my supporters,” Smith said about his victory.

He thanked his team for all of their hard work as it’s been a long 11 months of campaigning and going to events. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Smith also thanked Dukes for his impact on the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office, including the Jail Chemical Addiction Program and providing mental health services to the KCSO staff. He said those will continue under his administration.

He and his supporters gathered Tuesday evening at the Tippy Creek Winery in Leesburg, but Smith said they waited until all the results were in before celebrating for a short time.

As the results came in Tuesday night, Smith never trailed Dukes in the numbers provided by the Kosciusko County Clerk’s Office. Smith said he and his supporters knew it would be a close race though.

Smith said he hopes the transition for him taking over from Dukes will be as smooth as possible for the community and the staff. Until he officially takes over, Smith said he will continue to go to work as planned and will work with Dukes as they go along.

Attempts to reach Dukes, who won the sheriff’s race in 2018, by telephone Tuesday night for comments were unsuccessful.

County Council Races

While the four district County Council seats were up for re-election this year, only two were competitive.

Mike Long, District 2 Councilman, won re-election without any competition. After Jon Garber announced he would not seek re-election to District 4, retired State Rep. Dave Wolkins ran unopposed.

District 1 incumbent Kimberly Cates beat out challenger Todd Davis to retain her seat. She received 1,424 votes versus Davis’ 1,095 votes.

“I’m pretty happy,” Cates said about winning. “I feel like I ran a good, clean race, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

She spent about four hours picking up hers and others’ campaign signs.

“I’m thankful I get to serve another four years. I appreciate my family, friends and the people that voted for me. I’ll continue to watch out for the taxpayers during my next four years, God-willing,” Cates said.

Three men competed for the District 3 Council seat – Anthony “Tony” Ciriello, who received 1,297 votes; Scott Clay, who earned 1,017 votes; and Josh Lozano, who captured 206 votes.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Ciriello said as the final results came in at the Justice Building. “I’m glad I came out victorious. Scott did a good job with his campaign. He’s a nice guy and his day will come, and it will be time for him to be on the Council some day. Today just wasn’t it, but I admire his tenacity for running against me and making a lot of noise. But I’m glad we’re here and I’m looking forward to serving on the Council.”

He said they’re hoping there won’t be any competition from the Democrats come November and he doesn’t think there will be.

“Now we just move forward and start prepping to get ourselves ready to take that position,” Ciriello said.

As the county coroner now, he said he will remain in that position until the end of the year. Toward the end of the year, he will turn in his resignation to Kosciusko County GOP Chairman Mike Ragan who will then schedule a caucus to fill the role of coroner. Ciriello has been with the coroner’s office for 29 years, serving as the elected coroner for the last seven.

“It’s going to be a new chapter of my life that I’m really looking forward to,” Ciriello said.

Clay said he had a lot of fun campaigning and made a lot of relationships.

“This was just my first time. I would say that I can be very happy about the campaign, very proud of the campaign I ran and we’ll be running for something again in the future,” he said.


Longtime incumbent for the Kosciusko County Commissioners Southern District, Bob Conley, looks to hold on to his seat for another four-year term after winning re-election against three competitors.

Conley received 5,051 votes, while Elaine Kokenge received 808; Brian Pyle got 1,530 votes; and Don Wiesehan Jr. earned 2,606 votes.

“I think the people have spoken and I appreciate their support. I’ll do my best not to let them down,” Conley said. “My experience as a commissioner pays off and I think people realize that.”

Auditor & Recorder

Ragan also will have to schedule another caucus for county treasurer down the road as current treasurer Rhonda Helser won the Republican nomination Tuesday for county auditor. Helser received 6,445 votes and Chasity Sandy received 3,030.

“I feel very humbled that taxpayers of Kosciusko County have voted and they wanted me to be their next county auditor and I feel very blessed and humbled,” she said.

Helser admitted she was shocked by the big lead in the race she received but she said she was “humbled and blessed and I love my county.”

Deb Wright was successful in her bid for the county recorder nomination, receiving 5,802 votes over Teena Pence’s 3,633 votes.

“I’m very grateful for all the support and I’m happy that people chose experience,” Wright said, adding that it was a competitive, fun race.

Unopposed & Town Elections

There were two other unopposed county Republican races.

J. Brad Voelz received 8,599 votes in his bid for prosecuting attorney.

Gail Chapman earned 8,589 votes for county assessor.

In the town of Milford, incumbent clerk-treasurer won the Republican nomination, as did incumbent Councilmen Robert Cockburn, Kenneth Long and Doug Ruch.

Syracuse Town Councilman Larry Siegel, District 1, was unopposed in his race, while District 2 incumbent Paul Stoelting defeated challenger Matthew Goodnight 154 to 111.

On the Winona Lake Town Council, Jim Lancaster, District 3, and Rick Swaim, District 5, were unopposed.