Wide Open Race
Sheriff’s contest pits two veteran cops
By Howard Schmidt
Voters can choose between two experienced lawmen for Sacramento County sheriff this year, with Jim Cooper and Jim Barnes running for the office vacated by Scott Jones.
Cooper and Barnes both claim deep connections to the sheriff’s department, but they have taken different paths to the June primary. The sheriff’s job is nonpartisan, but the campaign may evolve into a battle over political backgrounds and ideology.
Cooper is giving up his state Assembly seat to run for sheriff. Barnes is the current chief deputy in Sacramento. He has the endorsement of Jones, who is running for Congress.
The race has historical significance for Cooper. The former sheriff’s captain ran against Jones for the sheriff’s job in 2010 and lost by about 3,000 votes.
Barnes is a 22-year sheriff’s veteran. He worked at many levels, including manager of north division covering Arden-Arcade and Carmichael. Twice he was selected as the department’s employee of the year for service as a sexual assault investigator and homicide supervisor.
Cooper spent 30 years in law enforcement before his first Assembly victory in 2014. He was elected to the Elk Grove City Council when that municipality was formed in 2000 while still on the job with the sheriff’s department.
In 2005, the county Grand Jury issued a report critical of Cooper involving conflict of interest on votes concerning Elk Grove’s contract with the sheriff’s department. The Grand Jury report said Cooper and a council colleague (also a sheriff’s deputy) “exhibited a pattern of knowingly and willfully disregarding their responsibility to abide by the conflict of interest provisions of state law.”
The Grand Jury criticized the sheriff’s department, led then by Lou Blanas. Blanas endorsed Cooper over Jones in 2010 and has endorsed Cooper over Barnes this year.
Cooper announced his sheriff’s candidacy at the state Capitol surrounded by local politicians. He spoke about the need for homeless housing, and additional help for mentally ill people and individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol. Cooper said he has raised more than $1 million for the sheriff’s race.
Barnes said the Capitol setting was fitting for Cooper, noting how the former deputy “has changed tremendously since he last wore the uniform.” Barnes added, “Cooper is more politician than a law enforcement officer.”
The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association agrees with Barnes. The labor group endorsed Barnes in November, three months before Cooper announced his decision to run for sheriff. The deputies supported Cooper over Jones in 2010.
The race marks the first time the local sheriff’s election has been held without an incumbent in 12 years. Expect a close outcome.
Howard Schmidt worked on federal, state and local levels of government, including 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.