The race for County sheriff is potentially significantBottom Highlights, Latest Issue, Politically Aware Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
Commentary: Politically Aware
San Diego County races have recently dominated local election chatter. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors selected Deputy District Attorney (DA) Summer Stephan to succeed current DA Bonnie Dumanis when she steps down in July. Before Stephan was selected, her 2018 campaign was up and going and speculation about her potential opponents was a political parlor game. So is guessing who will challenge Omar Passons for the County Board of Supervisors in District 4.
The least talked about County contest is the one that is most developed and potentially historic. In the race for County sheriff, openly gay Dave Myers, a commander in the Sheriff’s Department, is challenging current Sheriff Bill Gore. Should Myers win, he would be the first elected openly gay male sheriff in the nation.
In some ways, that seems surprising. Nationally, we have seen numerous LGBT congressmembers, lesbian Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and bisexual Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. In San Diego, we have had gay councilmembers from both parties, lesbian and gay deputy and interim mayors, a lesbian DA and a gay County supervisor.
Yet we know there are occupations and offices that have been harder for our community to penetrate. The military was one, until Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal in 2010. Male professional sports is another, with no one openly following the trails blazed by Jason Campbell (NBA) and Michael Sam (NFL). (We still have Robbie Rogers of MLS.) Law enforcement has improved, but still presents a tough road to leadership, whether through advancement or election.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been LGBT allies in leadership. Sheriff Gore, former Police Chief Lansdowne and current Chief Zimmerman have all enjoyed support from LGBT leaders. As we have learned repeatedly, however, that’s not the same as a seat at the table, and the Sheriff’s Department is an important table, particularly in San Diego.
If voters know anything about the sheriff, it’s that he runs the jails. That’s true, but the San Diego County Sheriff does much more than make sure criminals don’t escape. He has a say in who can be incarcerated for what. He plays a role in sharing information with other law enforcement organizations, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The County Sheriff’s Department is also effectively the police for unincorporated parts of the County and cities that choose to contract with them. In short, if an undocumented transgender San Diegan were found smoking marijuana in Poway, if and how to incarcerate them, how sensitively they would be treated, and whether ICE would be informed are decisions hugely impacted by the sheriff.
Myers is running as a change candidate beyond his sexual orientation. According to his Web site, Myers believes the Sheriff’s Department “is in a state of stagnation due to a reactive and outdated policing culture.” Gore would likely disagree. Both will be looking for LGBT votes, and the stakes are well worth our community’s serious attention.
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