LAND O'LAKES — Kenny Blankenship had butterflies as he watched the Supervisor of Elections staff count ballots.
He faced a tight race for the United School Employees of Pasco presidency against teacher of the year Pat Connolly, who had raised several critical questions about the union's management, to which Blankenship belonged. A 25 percent turnout threatened to narrow the margins.
In the end, Blankenship squeaked by with 54 percent of the 896 valid ballots cast.
"I'm not happy with the turnout, but I am satisfied with the results," he said, targeting improved membership and activism as one of his key goals for the next three years.
Retiring USEP president Lynne Webb, who held the post for 15 years, said low turnout is common in these elections. Unlike contract ratifications, which are held in every work site, this vote occurs by mail, which limits participation, she said.
She also expected a close vote for the open seat, saying such elections are "almost never a landslide." In her first election, Webb ran against four opponents and missed avoiding a runoff by 11 votes.
After taking the helm, Webb reached out to the other candidates to include them in her committees and leadership. Blankenship, 54, said he will do the same.
"I want to meet with Pat or anyone else who has a different point of view and work with those concerns or issues that have been raised," he said. "I think we all share the same goal of keeping USEP a vital force."
Connolly wrote on a message board shortly after the results were announced that he wished the new executive board well.
Blankenship said he also wanted to find a way to reintroduce more collaborative decision-making with the district, "like we had under John Long."
"Our teachers and SRP (school-related personnel) have not felt over the last eight years or so that there has been a truly collaborative model of working together to accomplish goals," he said.
District employee relations director Betsy Kuhn said she looked forward to working with Blankenship and the rest of the leadership team.
The other newly elected union leaders include Gay Kennedy as vice president-SRP, Lee Kulikauskas as vice president-teachers and Cheryl Vinson as treasurer. Their terms begin June 1.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com.