Polk County Sheriff's race: Bill McCarthy vs Dan Charleston (updated)

Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy is facing a strong re-election challenge from Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Dan Charleston, who wants to bring the “constitutional sheriff” movement to Iowa’s largest county. Some clips on the sheriff’s race are after the jump, along with the transcript of a positive television commercial McCarthy is running on Des Moines stations.

UPDATE: Added a radio ad for Dan Charleston below.

McCarthy worked in the Des Moines Police Department for more than 40 years, rising to police chief before retiring in 2006 in order to become deputy Polk County sheriff. McCarthy ran for the sheriff’s position in 2008 and was elected with 64 percent of the vote.

Local conservatives and tea party activists are fired up about Charleston, who has worked in law enforcement since 1989, including in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office. His campaign website lays out a long list of issues he wants to work on. For instance, he’s for fewer restrictions on gun ownership and against the use of traffic cameras for law enforcement.

It’s an uphill battle for any Republican running for county-wide office here. As of October 2012, Polk County contained 99,659 active registered Democrats, 81,054 Republicans, and 74,471 no-party voters. McCarthy has also raised considerably more money to spend during the home stretch. His television commercial is the most professional-looking ad I’ve ever seen for a local candidate in Iowa. It uses cinematic visuals and a movie-like soundtrack. I haven’t found the video, but here’s my transcript:

Male voice-over: A law enforcement professional. Bill McCarthy. [White words appear on a black screen: A law enforcement professional Bill McCarthy]

For over 40 years, Bill McCarthy has served our country and our community with honor. [Viewer sees black and white photos of McCarthy in Marine Corps uniform (he’s a Vietnam veteran) and as a young man in a police uniform]

Bill McCarthy understands that being tough on crime also means being smart on crime. [White words on a black screen: Bill McCarthy understands being tough on crime, shifts to Bill McCarthy understands being smart on crime.]

Forming partnerships with the community [photo of McCarthy talking on the telephone, words forming partnerships with the community near the bottom of screen]

Running an efficient jail [photo of McCarthy talking on the telephone, words running an efficient jail near the bottom of screen]

Cracking down on sex predators to keep our children safe. [white words on a black screen: Keeping our children safe]

Tough on crime, smart on crime. Bill McCarthy, sheriff. [more recent photo of McCarthy, words on screen Tough on crime, smart on crime. Bill McCarthy Sheriff]

Charleston’s website includes links to several videos featuring the candidates for sheriff. At the beginning of October, McCarthy and Charleston clashed at a public forum in Des Moines. Click here for part 1 (about 32 minutes) and here for part 2 (about 40 minutes). For those interested in this campaign, I recommend watching the entire forum. The candidates talked about a lot of issues, from management of the Sheriff’s Office to the in-jail drug treatment program McCarthy has implemented to whether local officers should take it upon themselves to enforce federal immigration law. Charleston referred repeatedly to the need to be “constitutional” rather than politically correct. He supports a “show your papers” law enforcement approach to dealing with undocumented immigrants. McCarthy made a compelling case, both practical and ethical, against copying Arizona’s approach. Toward the end of the first video, the sheriff and his challenger talked about “restorative justice,” another part of Charleston’s platform.

In my opinion, here’s one of the most important points McCarthy raised during that public forum (around the 31-minute mark of this video):

I want to continue to manage the office in a professional way […] Over the last year and a half, I’ve pretty much given Dan free reign to say anything he wanted to say, whether it be 13 or 14 times on the largest radio station in the state, that happens apparently to think the way he does, or  whether it’s been in any number of forums. I just believe that you can’t bare your soul on every social issue if you’re an executive in a law enforcement agency, and then be called to a scene […] and then be considered by one side or the other to be impartial. It won’t happen. It can’t happen. So if you want to let all your social, deep-seated social beliefs be known to the world, and you want to put them on your website, how are you going to be judged as fair and impartial by the people who disagree with you? I don’t understand that, and I don’t think my peers in the Polk County Chiefs and Sheriffs Association understand it very well either. But I understand that there’s a need to project those ideas, to be that gun advocate, or to talk about throwing all the “illegals” into the jail, or to talk about certain things that, quite frankly, is an insult to our community when you talk about the “illegals” and what we’re gonna do. It throws a scare into them, it causes them to shut down when a crime occurs so that we can’t go in and talk with them, because they’re afraid of us. That’s not how you work with a community group. It’s how you shut ’em down and put ’em in fear and you treat ’em differently, the reality of their existence differently than you do anybody else.

Some conservatives flipped out over McCarthy’s closing comments, when he discussed what “scares the hell out of me” about Charleston’s campaign. He held up a book by Sheriff Richard Mack, an anti-government activist and advocate of “the constitutional sheriff” movement. McCarthy said Mack’s movement refers to the IRS as the “Gestapo” and suggests that the military should exercise their duties to march to a different drummer. He claimed Charleston’s website referenced Mack. I was unable to find any link this week, but the content could have been removed since October 2.

McCarthy became visibly agitated when he talked about Charleston’s website referring to the Oath Keepers. “These are the big boys,” McCarthy said, noting that the group is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s watch list for so-called “patriot” extremists. His closing statement ended with, “This is the kind of garbage that you’re gonna get if he’s elected. This is about as radical as it gets.”

Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart makes a lot of excuses for the Oath Keepers, but I’m with McCarthy 100 percent here. I don’t want the Polk County sheriff affiliated in any way with this group. McCarthy said it well at the Polk County Democrats’ dinner this spring:

McCarthy said, “I had him and others come in my office and demand that I sign an Oath Keepers promise which is a sign that you support the Constitution.  That would be the last thing I’d ever do is sign a Constitution for people like that.”

“I took an oath when I joined the Marine Corps,” McCarthy said. “I took an oath that caused me to do two terms in Vietnam.  I took an oath in 69 when I joined the Sheriff’s office, and again in 70 with the Police Department, and then again when I was elected Sheriff.  I’m not taking an oath for people who define ‘We the People’ who look exactly like them and thin[k] exactly like them.”

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board (no, I haven’t canceled my subscription) made a different case for re-electing McCarthy.

Polk County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Charleston, the Republican candidate, would put more resources into deputies patrolling the county. Incumbent Sheriff William McCarthy, a Democrat, says the department’s biggest responsibility is running the Polk County Jail, and he sees the patrol duties declining over time as growing suburbs expand their own police departments.

Besides criticizing McCarthy’s management of the department as being top-heavy with supervisors, Charleston talks about how he would be a “constitutional sheriff.” It’s not clear what that means, but he opposes controls on guns and supports so-called “stand your ground” laws. He did not meet with the Register’s editorial board, despite repeated invitations.

McCarthy is right that management of the jail must be the sheriff’s top priority. The sprawling facility with a daily population of roughly 1,000 prisoners has more to do with controlling crime in the metropolitan area than officers patrolling rural county roads. […]

McCarthy acknowledges that there is dissension within the ranks of his department. That’s evident from the election challenge by Charleston, who has the support of some deputies. But the sheriff’s job is not necessarily to be liked by his subordinates. In fact, his job is to hold them accountable.

McCarthy takes credit for having established more professionalism within the department, evidenced by the creation of an Office of Professional Standards that receives and investigates complaints from citizens about the department’s deputies. That office, similar to one he helped create within the Des Moines Police Department, gives officers a sense of what conduct should be expected.

I hope that Polk County Democrats and moderates fill out the whole ballot. McCarthy should win re-election, but this race has been low-profile, and Charleston’s supporters are probably far more engaged in the sheriff’s campaign.

Share any relevant comments in this thread.

P.S.-Sheriff McCarthy’s son is State Representative Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the Iowa House Democratic caucus.

P.P.S- Ed Fallon interviewed Charleston yesterday for his Fallon Forum webcast. You can watch the program here. Among the topics for discussion: restorative justice and Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock’s recent comments about rape and abortion.  Around the 20-minute mark, Fallon tried to get Charleston to denounce Mourdock’s views. Charleston said his personal opinion is that life begins at conception, and later added he would tell a woman who became pregnant through rape that there’s probably a family who would love to adopt her baby.

UPDATE: Rekha Basu mentioned other aspects of Charleston’s background in her November 4 Sunday Des Moines Register column.

He was fired by the Pomona, Calif., Police Department for a false report about a carjacking and was fired by a previous Polk County sheriff for making harassing comments to a female sergeant. The county Civil Service Commission reinstated him but suspended him for insubordination.

Charleston draws support for espousing restorative justice programs in jail, which he says would minimize jail time and costs. But restorative justice advocates, including in the Iowa Department of Corrections, don’t think jail – where arrested people await processing – is the time for such programs. Jail inmates can’t just be remediated and released. Remediation needs to be part of a sentence or probation for offenders who have been convicted or admitted guilt.

During the candidate forum I linked to above, Charleston suggested that he should have been promoted based on his annual reviews. Without going into specifics, McCarthy indicated that sometimes there are reasons a person isn’t promoted.

SECOND UPDATE: Charleston has been advertising on some Des Moines radio stations. One commercial includes testimonials from “ordinary people,” I didn’t catch the very beginning of his commercial on tape, but here’s the rest of the transcript.

Charleston’s voice: [opening line was something like I’m Dan Charleston, candidate for sheriff.]

[I’m running] to make your community safer. We currently have a one to two and a quarter supervisor to staff ratio–unacceptable when the national average is one to ten.

Reallocation of your tax dollars results in more officers on the street, reduced drug trafficking, gang intervention, restorative justice, and youthful offender services.

This can be done without the financial support of unconstitutional traffic cameras.

Male voice-over: Paid for by Charleston for Sheriff. Charlestonforsheriff.com  

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