Polk County Sheriff race gets needed attention

“This election will carry serious consequences.”

The Des Moines Register’s Rekah Basu is right.

At stake is whether Polk County will stay a relatively inclusive place where law enforcement aims to serve and protect everyone or turn into a place where our law enforcement is more focused on targeting and dividing groups in our community at a detriment to public safety for all.

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Basu: We don’t need sheriff with political agenda

Voters who attended Monday’s Polk County sheriff’s debate to learn more about the race may have wondered if they were wakling in on some inside joke that neither they nor organizers, Des Moines Neighbors, had been clued in about.


From the rock star welcome that first greeted Sheriff Bill McCarthy’s Republican challenger, Deputy Sheriff Dan Charleston, the well-choreographed cheering squad was probably better suited to a football game than a debate.But many of those wearing Charleston for Sheriff T-shirts and hooting and cheering clearly had an agenda that went beyond effective law enforcement.


They included many of Charleston’s fellow deputies, so employee morale and understaffing were the subject of frequent audience questions submitted to moderator Marty Mauk. When Charleston later thanked his crowd, he said they had “jeopardized your relationship with your supervisors to do this.”


Building support among co-workers about working conditions is one thing. But some of Charleston’s goals are alarming.


He favors almost no state or federal controls on gun carry or use. He’s a supporter of a “stand your ground” law, which pretty much authorizes anyone who feels threatened to shoot to kill. He thinks anyone without a felony conviction should be able to carry any gun, including high-capacity, automatic, military-style guns capable of firing many rounds per minute.


His campaign literature says he would be a “constitutional sheriff.” That’s a movement, as McCarthy pointed out, named after a book by Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. Mack challenged the gun-control Brady Law’s directives to local law enforcement up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won.


There is a Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association which espouses states’ rights and gun rights, considers the federal government and the IRS the enemy, and says a constitutional sheriff will use arms, if necessary, against “federal tyranny.” It held a convention whose sponsors included the racist John Birch Society and gun-owner groups.


The Oath Keepers, who are linked to its website, are military and police officers who boast of refusing orders to “disarm” Americans or “subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.” It has been named a radical group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.


If that’s the kind of sheriff Charleston would be, we should run the other way.


McCarthy said the movement, like other anti-government and patriot groups associated with it, “scares the hell out of me.” With good reason. McCarthy’s brother James was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh.


Charleston believes local police, rather than federal immigration authorities, should be able to check immigration papers and detain people who cannot prove their legal status — even though immigration is a federal responsibility. He proposes filling 500 beds in the west wing of the Polk County Jail with undocumented immigrants as a revenue move, since the federal government would have to pay to house them.


That sort of plan invites racial profiling, which violates civil rights laws. As McCarthy rightly observed, sheriffs are supposed to be impartial and without political agendas in order to establish good relations with ethnic groups in their community. “It throws a scare and causes them to shut down and not call us,” he said. “You can’t bare your soul on every social issue as executives in a law enforcement agency, and then be called to a scene and be considered impartial.”


Charleston retorted to cheers, “I’m interested in doing what’s not politically correct but what’s constitutional.”


Some of Charleston’s positions could have a particularly negative impact on women. For example, he favors getting volunteers into the jail to do so-called restorative justice, but apparently he didn’t consider that a woman who has been raped isn’t eager to sit down with her rapist after he’s just been arrested. The time for that, if ever, would be after justice has been served.


Domestic violence victims could be in jeopardy with laws like stand your ground. And Charleston favors dropping arrest warrants for people who haven’t paid child support, replacing them with a “self arrest” program. It’s hard enough as it is for some single mothers to get child-support payments.


Advances in the status of women and minority groups have come about through careful examination of laws and adjustments where necessary. Such knee-jerk abandonment of basic protections would be reckless at best.


This election will carry serious consequences. The Polk County sheriff’s office is operating fine under existing leadership. It doesn’t need to be dragged into some paranoid, anti-government movement with a political agenda.

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