A monthlong slugging match for the Douglas County district attorney's job ended without a handshake Tuesday when incumbent Jerry Wells held onto a slim lead to win his first four-year term as the county's top prosecutor.
Wells, a Republican, defeated Lawrence defense attorney James Rumsey by an unofficial total of 20,664 to 18,196 votes, or 52.9 percent to 46.6 percent. First returns gave him an identical percentage lead, and Wells never relinquished it.
The vote ended a campaign in which both candidates spent most of their energy trading statistics and statements insinuating the other wasn't right for the job. After the bell, the blows continued.
Wells said he won by parrying statistics released early in the campaign by Rumsey suggesting the prosecutor's office was soft on crime.
"There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics," Wells said. "And statistics without explanation don't mean anything. Once an explanation was given, it was over."
But Rumsey said the results would have been different had more voters heard his message that Wells had dismissed too many cases, entered into too many plea bargains and made too many diversion agreements. He said his message would become more clear over the next four years because Wells' soft policies would cause an increase in crime, and more local residents would be victimized.
"HIS POLICIES were not effective in the past and they won't be effective in the future," Rumsey said.
The Democrat promised to run again in 1996 and said he planned to start organizing his campaign "next week." He said that although he was disappointed by the election results, he was very pleased with the support he received.
Wells said voters realized Rumsey's strategy forcing defendants to plead guilty or go to trial was narrow-minded.
"I just think it was a one-note song that wasn't going to go anywhere," he said.
Wells said voters sided with him because he was more interested in administering justice than simply getting convictions in every case.
"The message this sends is that people like to see a DA who has some judgment," Wells said. "They also like to see people who have some compassion and don't take cases to trial just for the sake of taking cases to trial."
TUESDAY marked the second time Wells had defeated Rumsey in a vote for district attorney. The Douglas County Republican Central Committee selected Wells over Rumsey in 1991 to fill the fourth year of former Dist. Atty. Jim Flory's unexpired term after Flory resigned to become a assistant U.S. attorney.
Rumsey changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican to face Wells in the GOP vote, then changed back to oppose Wells in the general election.
The defense attorney's party affiliation became an issue last week, when Chris Miller, Douglas County GOP chairman, called a news conference to announce that Rumsey had changed parties five times during the past 14 years. Miller and Wells both used the issue to question Rumsey's credibility.
During the campaign, Rumsey said he didn't think voters cared about their district attorney's party affiliation. He continued to downplay the issue after the vote.
"I CAN'T tell you what it was that caused me to lose. I don't think that issue was it," he said.
Wells said he didn't know how much weight the issue carried in the voting booth, but he thought it hurt Rumsey. He said Rumsey's waffling party ties, combined with his lack of political endorsements, made voters see the Democrat as a loner and an outsider.
Rumsey took exception to that claim.
"I think if you go down and talk to sheriff's deputies and police officers one-on-one, you'll find they support me 85 percent to 15 percent," he said. "And I'd invite anybody to do that."
The fact that Rumsey was able to garner nearly half the vote showed, he said, that the people who did hear his message were dissatisfied with the prosecutor's office.
WELLS SAID he didn't see Rumsey's support as a mandate to scale back diversion agreements and plea bargains.
"I'm not going to change a thing," he said. "I think we're doing the right thing."
Wells claimed victory about 10 p.m., when results from 44 of 51 precincts showed him ahead 53 percent to 47 percent. During a victory party, Wells said he had dedicated the election to his 78-year-old father, Gerald Wells, who is seriously ill.
He said he was happy to have won during an election year in which a Democratic presidential candidate won by a landslide. However, he said, he thought the presidential election "had very little impact" on the local race.
Wells said he would continue to refine his policies over the next four years. He would not say whether he would seek office again in 1996 to possibly set up a third showdown against Rumsey.
"I'm going to reserve judgment on that for right now," he said.