Keach coasts to win

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Ted Sullivan
September 15, 2010
— Rock County Coroner Jenifer Keach said Tuesday she would work for local families, apply for grant money and expand programs after winning the primary election.

“I’m very happy that I have the support of the voters in Rock County,” Keach said. “Obviously, my primary goal is to make sure they have the best services.”

Keach, 39, of 1320 Elida St., Janesville, beat challenger Terry L. Holder, 43, of 950 Nelson Ave., Milton, to be the next coroner. Keach will be unopposed in November’s general election.

“I think it’s pretty representative that voters felt that qualifications and experience were the most important thing,” Keach said. “I’m glad it’s over.”

Holder congratulated Keach for her victory and said she appreciated everyone who voted for her.

“I had a lot of support and a lot of wonderful people behind me,” she said.

The Rock County coroner’s race was the only county election contested in the Democratic primary.

Keach was appointed coroner in 2005. She was elected to the position in 2006.

Holder is a former autopsy assistant and phlebotomist at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.

The race had its share of the spotlight.

Keach and the coroner’s office have been the center of controversy since shortly after she took office in 2005.

Keach was criticized after burning drugs from death scenes in her back yard and was the target of complaints from former employees.

Amid the turmoil, the county board has repeatedly considered switching from an elected coroner’s office to an appointed medical examiner. Board members then decided to have a November referendum to let voters decide between a coroner and medical examiner.

The change would not be effective until 2014 because Keach will be elected to a four-year term. The county board also wouldn’t have to follow the referendum’s outcome because it will be advisory.

The coroner’s race also took several twists after election papers were filed.

Keach challenged Holder’s nomination papers. She called into question the validity of Holder’s signatures. The challenge was unsuccessful because Holder had 501 of the 500 required signatures.

Holder then resigned from her job at the veterans hospital because her candidacy was in violation of the federal Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from running in partisan elections.

The violation was brought to light after a complaint was filed with the Rock County Clerk’s Office and Rock County District Attorney’s Office.

Holder said Tuesday she probably would look for work now that she has lost the race.

Holder also came under scrutiny for her ties to UW-Madison forensic pathologist Michael Stier, who publicly criticized Keach and favored a medical examiner system. Holder worked with Stier at the veterans hospital, but she said he had nothing to do with her candidacy.

Holder then came under suspicion because she moved to Rock County weeks before the election’s July 13 filing deadline. This race also was her first step into politics. She said she was waiting for her children to finish school before moving.

Holder also didn’t register to vote until July, and she didn’t register with the Democratic Party until Aug. 12. She said she had been busy raising her children alone and didn’t have time for politics.

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