Council incumbent unseated; District 6 faces runoff

The Rev. Charles Simpkins, a longtime member of Batesburg-Leesville Town Council, was unseated by political newcomer Johnnie Mae Speech-Lemon in municipal elections Tuesday.

Meanwhile, voters in District 6 will have to return to the polls to narrow down their choices, as contenders Chris Derrick and Paul Wise will face a runoff. And a handful of voters in live in the Town of Batesburg-Leesville – but at the same time in Saluda County – could have an impact on the final vote tally for District 8.

In unofficial results posted Tuesday night, Mrs. Lemon picked up 64 votes to Councilman Simpkins’ 41 votes to earn her first four-year term in the District 4 seat. The Rev. Simpkins, who currently sits as mayor pro tem, was first elected to Town Council in 1999.

“I would like to thank everybody for coming out to vote for me, and I pray that I won’t be a disappointment,” Mrs. Speach-Lemon said. “I’m going to do my best to serve them in the best way that I know how. I’ll be guided and led by the Holy Spirit to do that.”

Mrs. Speach-Lemon knew that she was facing a veteran incumbent when she was asked by “several people” to offer for the District 4 seat. “I gave it a lot of thought, because at first I said no,” she said. “I had to think about it. I had to pray about it, and it came into my spirit to do it. So I just decided to do it, and I just want to try to make a difference.”

The Rev. Simpkins was standing outside the window at the Batesburg-Leesville Leisure Center when the unofficial precinct totals were posted and the outcome of the race came into focus. He declined to comment then on his loss after serving 20 years on Town Council and did not respond to telephone calls, requesting comment, by press time.

In the uncontested race for the District 2 seat, incumbent Councilman Olin Gambrell retained his seat with 73 votes. There were two write-in votes in District 2 balloting.


In the District 6 contest, Mr. Wise picked up 56 votes across three precincts – Batesburg, Leesville and Mims – and absentees to Mr. Derrick’s 37 votes. Twonna Williamson picked up only 27 votes and finished third in the field.

Because winning candidates must receive 50 percent of the vote plus 1, a runoff election will need to be held in two weeks.

“I’m running ‘til the end. May the best man win,” Mr. Derrick said after learning of the yet-undecided election. “I’m still looking forward to having the community hear my voice.”

Mr. Derrick feels that voters should return to the polls on his behalf because, he said, “I feel like I can do something for the community and for the folks in that community.”

On learning of the runoff, Mr. Wise said, “I will continue to work hard on meeting and educating the voters of District 6 on who I am and what I stand for.”

Mr. Wise said that voters should return to the ballots on his behalf because, he said, “I will work for the continued strategic use of the H-tax for the beautification and growth of the Batesburg and Leesville districts.”


Bob Hall, a frequent attendee at Town Council meetings, picked up 59 votes to apparently defeat Batesburg-Leesville High assistant principal Eric Gambrell in a tight contest for the District 8 seat.

However, eight provisional ballots were cast by Saluda County residents who live in the Bobcat Road area, inside the District 8 municipal limits. Those ballots were not added to the Lexington County totals posted Tuesday night and will not become official until they are certified by Lexington County Registration and Elections officials early Thursday morning.

If somehow all eight of the Saluda County provisionals were to be certified for Mr. Gambrell, that would set up an absolute tie. That would be enough of a swing to force a runoff based on the 50 percent-plus-1 rule.

“I’m overwhelmed to have been chosen to represent the people of District 8,” Mr. Hall said after the unofficial votes were posted, as he celebrated with family and friends. “I have an open set of ears and an open mind, and I want to work together with the members of Council to serve this community.”

After learning of the results, Mr. Gambrell said, “I would like to thank the 51 people who voted for me in District 8. Thank you for your confidence that you’ve invested in me.”


In other nearby communities, David Reese was running unopposed to retain his seat as Mayor in the Town of Summit. Mike Hartley and Neal Petty ran for re-election to Town Council in at-large voting.


Story by Tony Baughman / Published November 7, 2019