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Editor's column: Can’t we just hire a sheriff?

September 4, 2010
By Per Peterson

Bruce Hanson might have said it best when talking about his campaign signs that have been defaced in the last couple of months: "Everyone knows I'm running for sheriff,"?he said. "This isn't gonna make me go away."

Hanson is going up against current Lyon County Sherriff Mark Mather in this year's election. Like Hanson, Mather, who comfortably won the August primary, doesn't understand what either side would have to gain by destroying or stealing the signs.

And both are victims. Hanson has had numerous signs stolen, some spray-painted, one even burned. Mather says hundreds of his signs are missing.

Welcome to the election, gentlemen.

Sign wars are nothing new. Last year, a 74-year-old retired police officer in New Jersey was caught drawing mustaches on pictures of the face of one of the candidates. It was one of 16 signs belonging to Republican councilwoman Carrol McMorrow. Many of the signs were distorted with a marker-drawn mustache.

She won the election, by the way.

In this year's Pine County Sheriff's race, Sheriff Mark Mansavage said his signs have been defaced, some spray-painted with the name "Cole" - the last name of his opponent. Robin Cole said he did not condone this action in any way, and said that obscenities have also been spray-painted on his campaign signs. Sounds familiar.

In July, the Washington Blade reported the general consultant for the Scott Galvin congressional campaign in Florida said between six and 10 signs were defaced in North Miami. Galvin, a Democrat, is gay and his signs were spray-painted with the word "fag."

Things got bad in Minnesota during the 2004 elections: Three teenagers in Duluth were charged with a felony for defacing political signs. In October of that year, vandals spray-painted swastikas on Bush/Cheney signs on the Plymouth/Maple Grove border. A month earlier arsonists set fire to a Bush political lawn sign and deck of a Bush supporter in Richfield.

Mather said earlier this week that he knew things could get ugly, and he was right. Politics can be an ugly business. Which raises the question: Why elect a sheriff in the first place?

The election process should be reserved for politicians, and law enforcement officials - whether they're sheriffs, deputies, or cops - are not politicians. At least they shouldn't be. We don't elect chiefs of police, why elect a sheriff? We should be more concerned with how well-equipped these "candidates" are to serve and protect. Does it matter if a sheriff is a Democrat or Republican? Or Independent? If a sheriff were to fill out a job application would he or she have to check one? Do we care if a sheriff dislikes Obamacare, or if they're in favor of how our president is handling foreign policy or the national debt? Does it matter where a sheriff's candidate stands on taxes? We shouldn't care less. They're not the ones voting in St. Paul or Washington.

What I want to know is, are they good at enforcing the law? Do they have good instinct? Are they brave? Do they have the citizens' trust? How do they handle themselves under the most stressful of circumstances? Do they know the law? Are they good with a budget?

This isn't to say that there's not a certain amount of "politics" involved with being a county sheriff, because there is. But politicking shouldn't be a required skill set. Sometimes elections turn into popularity contests, but if a sheriff is good at his job and is willing to protect and serve at all costs and put his life on the line at any given moment, should popularity matter that much?

Why put sheriff's candidates through this and subject them to what real politicians have to deal with when they look to enter office? When Mather took over for the retiring Joel Dahl, there was no special public election held to vote him in; he was interviewed and appointed on a 3-2 vote by county commissioners to finish the term.

So if we don't elect a sheriff, what do we do? Maybe when it comes time to replace a sheriff, county boards can do the decision making for us and choose a successor by evaluating specific criteria such as seniority, job history, experience in the field, their track record. Good cops and good deputies will be rewarded for their work and promoted from within. They will be tested, screened and evaluated to the fullest extent. Then, one will be hired by the county for X number of years, after which, we do it all over again.

Perhaps it's not the best answer, and it might sound a bit idealistic and elementary, but it beats turning two well-qualified law enforcement officials into politicians and throwing them onto a long campaign trail littered with signs bearing their name.



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