A Real Race?

Sheriff’s election may break format

By Howard Schmidt
December 2021

A sheriff’s election is often an exercise in maintaining the status quo. Many times, the retiring incumbent picks a favored replacement, and the endorsement is enough to win the race.

Once in office, the sheriff typically wins several re-elections and stays on the job until he chooses to depart on his own terms.

Scott Jones was elected sheriff in 2010, the handpicked replacement for John McGinness. Recently Jones posted on social media, “I have decided NOT to seek re-election as Sheriff of Sacramento County next year, and instead retire after what will be over 33 years with the Sheriff’s Office, including 12 years as Sheriff!”

Jones has been a prominent figure—he leads the largest law enforcement agency in the region—and controversial.

He criticized President Barak Obama on illegal aliens when an undocumented drug dealer murdered Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County Det. Michael Davis in 2104. Jones lost a run for Congress against incumbent Rep. Ami Bera in 2016. He argued in 2018 with the county inspector general after his deputies shot a civilian.

In 2020, Jones called for the National Guard to be mobilized after the jail and other county facilities Downtown were vandalized while under the watch of Sacramento Police. That same year, Jones used social media to build opposition to efforts by the Board of Supervisors to “defund” law enforcement.

Jones has also been an innovator. He created the Homeless Outreach Team to deal with transient problems and homeless camps in unincorporated areas. He developed the Intelligence Led Policing model for patrol deployment, and supported body cameras for deputies.

Now that Jones is stepping down, voters will choose his successor. What impact will Jones have?

The 2010 election was close. Jones had the McGinness endorsement, but another previous sheriff, Lou Blanas, supported Jim Cooper, a sheriff’s captain. Jones squeezed out a narrow victory by about 3,000 votes.

Jones faced no opposition in 2014 and prevailed in 2018, despite being assailed by progressives. A similar push by progressives was made against incumbent District Attorney Anne Marie Shubert, who also won.

Now Jones has a chance to impact the 2022 sheriff’s race. He has endorsed Chief Deputy Jim Barnes, but a battle is forming with a familiar name—Jim Cooper.

Now a state assemblymember representing South Sacramento, Elk Grove, Galt and Lodi, Cooper has an active campaign committee for sheriff. His account had $503,528 this summer, compared to $101,834 for Barnes.

When Cooper formed his campaign committee, he admitted he has a big decision to make—either run for sheriff or his Assembly seat. He can’t run for both. Cooper said he was “only weighing my options and considering what is best for my family, the people of the Ninth Assembly District, and for the citizens of Sacramento County.”

Meantime, Barnes is campaigning hard, with Jones helping out.

Law enforcement groups want Cooper to stay in the Legislature. As a Democrat and former deputy, he has credibility as a public safety advocate to counter anti-law enforcement groups.

If Cooper decides to run for sheriff, a two-person contest with Barnes would be decided in June. If other candidates enter the primary, a November runoff would happen if nobody wins in June by 50.1 percent. The filing period opens Feb. 14 and closes March 11.

Howard Schmidt has worked on the federal, state and local levels of government, including 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at howardschmidt218@aol.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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