Elected Republican magistrate is pleasantly surprised
Among the lineup of entrenched Kanawha County magistrates elected to new terms on Tuesday were two newcomers.
One, the only Republican to snare a seat, actually led the ticket.
Mike Sisson himself was surprised by that.
"Some of those other magistrates have been there a long time and done a really good job," he said.
A former St. Albans police officer and security guard for Union Carbide, Sisson currently works as a process deputy for the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department. He is responsible for serving papers such as subpoenas and court summonses.
Sisson's 29,113 votes exceeded those of longtime magistrate Jack Pauley, the next person on the list of 10 winners, by more than 500 votes.
Pauley and the other eight candidates to win seats all are Democrats. That party has a substantial registration edge over the GOP in Kanawha County. There are nearly 70,000 registered Democrats and 38,000 Republicans.
Sisson, 54, said he had been contemplating a run for magistrate for about two decades and finally jumped in this year.
"I thought it was time to give it a shot," the Charleston resident said.
But he didn't describe his campaign as a Herculean effort.
He collected about $7,000 in donations and "spent every dime."
He said he put up a few yard signs and had a few friends place car magnets on their vehicles.
"But I tried to only put out yard signs in people's yards that really supported me," he said.
He had one billboard, and it was in the community of Jefferson along MacCorkle Avenue. He also spent some money on radio and newspaper ads in the last couple of weeks of the campaign.
"Apparently, it was effective," he said.
He also tried to attend every meet-the-candidate function in the county. Candidates often complain that attendance at such events is lackluster and they end up addressing each other.
Sisson believes being a lifelong Kanawha County resident with ties to his community through organizations such as church helped him receive so many votes.
Although he hasn't seen a breakdown of the votes by precinct, he believes he did well in the St. Albans area.
He also believes the absence of Carol Fouty, a longtime Republican magistrate in Kanawha County who agreed not to run amid allegations of misconduct, helped him win his seat.
"Historically, incumbents are hard to beat, and I think it would have been a lot harder for me to win if she (Fouty) was on the ballot," Sisson said.
Fouty led the ticket in 2008, and she, too, was the only Republican elected.
The other newcomer elected this week was Democrat Brent Hall, a paralegal with Bradford Law Offices in Charleston.
Both he and Sisson will be serving in elective office for the first time.
Hall, 32, has been a paralegal since he graduated from Mountain State University in 2002 with a degree in legal studies.
Both men believe their backgrounds will serve them well when they assume their new positions on Jan. 1.
"I'm passionate about the law, and I think I'll do a great job with my legal background," Hall said.
Sisson received a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree from West Virginia State after completing criminal justice coursework.
"For the most part, my background is criminal justice," Sisson said.
He originally attended classes at Marshall University but left school when he took a job as a patrolman with the St. Albans Police Department in 1980.
He ranked first in his class during a 13-week course for law enforcement officers at the West Virginia State Police Academy.
Hall, who came in ninth with 25,513 votes, believes tireless campaigning helped him win the seat.
"I did everything from robocalls to mailers," he said.
Hall and his fiancee, who are planning a wedding next spring at the state Capitol, knocked on doors across the county.
"I think people just really respond to hard work," he said.
Sisson said he became interested in law enforcement at an early age because he has been a lifelong friend of Sheriff-elect John Rutherford. Rutherford's brother, Mike, is the current Kanawha County sheriff.
Sisson was so close to the Rutherford family that he often went on vacation with them as a child, he said.
"Mike became a St. Albans police officer, and I thought that was really cool," Sisson said.
When John was hired as a sheriff's deputy, Sisson decided it was time to get a job in law enforcement. The St. Albans department hired him, and he stayed in that position for eight years.
Hall always has been interested in the legal system, but it was his brother's run for Beckley City Council that inspired him to seek public office himself.
Hall said he was not looking at changing anything when he took office.
Sisson would like to reduce the number of continuances and delays that occur in the magistrate's office.
"I've noticed that when I serve subpoenas, it seems like I'm serving the same people over and over again," he said. "The cases get postponed or continued."
That becomes frustrating for the police officers as well as those involved in the cases.
"And the longer you have a case on the docket, the harder it is to bring it to a satisfactory end," Sisson said.
Although he understands that some cases have to be continued or postponed, he still would like to reduce that number.
Sisson has been married for 21 years. He has three grown boys, ages 32, 30 and 29. He also has three granddaughters and a grandson. His family strongly supported his decision to run for office.
Sisson is active in his church, Redeemer Lutheran, along Corridor G. He recently traveled to Rochester, N.Y., to play an extra in a religious-based film called "King's Faith."
Hall enjoys sports and the outdoors and is active in Generation Charleston and the East End Community Association.
Both are eager to start their new positions.
"I'm glad the election is over and I'm looking forward to getting to work," Sisson said.