Our View: Charleston stirs up controversy in Polk Co Sheriff’s race

Any candidate who says they are more constitutional – or patriotic – than their opponent is simply trying to divide us, and scare us.


By Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa CCI Action Fund. This column first appeared on the Des Moines Register’s A Better Iowa site.


You usually don’t think of a county sheriff’s race as being too controversial.

Typically, you have two candidates running for office who, if elected, will perform the same public services: operating the county jail, providing security at the courthouse, transporting prisoners, serving warrants and other legal documents, providing law enforcement in small towns and unincorporated areas, and so on.

The job responsibilities don’t change based on who gets elected. It’s fairly basic and straightforward. And generally without controversy.

Except for this year.

The race in Polk County between Sheriff Bill McCarthy and his challenger Dan Charleston has garnered a fair amount of attention recently, and caused some real controversy. And from our vantage point, the controversy is being generated by Charleston, who’s running as a “constitutional sheriff”.

The U.S. Constitution is the highest law of the land. It’s a sacred document. It spells out the rules for us to live peacefully and productively in society. It demands responsibilities from us, and it guarantees our rights. It unifies our nation, yet Charleston’s campaign rhetoric seeks to turn our Constitution into an instrument of division and discrimination.

Any candidate who says they are more constitutional – or patriotic – than their opponent is simply trying to divide us, and scare us.

Charleston has also talked about gang violence and drug cartels being fueled by undocumented immigrants in our community. The implication is that we’re being overrun by criminals from other countries. Aside from being factually wrong, this sort of rhetoric invites racial profiling.

Charleston’s views seem contrary to the values of tolerance, democracy and inclusion that characterize our United States. His message seeks to scapegoat and focus negatively on differences among the people in our community.

We live in a rapidly diversifying county and nation. And throughout our history, the United States has thrived because of this diversity.

Iowa has stood out as a leader in the protection of civil rights for all people. These are values that make us proud of our state. Charleston’s extremism and division will only eat away at our proud history of inclusion, and it certainly has no place in Polk County.


Read More

  • Iowa CCI Action Fund members held candidate briefing with Sheriff McCarthy. Read more here.
  • The Des Moines Register’s endorsement of Sheriff Bill McCarthy here.
  • The Des Moines Register’s coverage of the Northside Neighbors Sheriff candidate debate here.

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