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There’s the rub for Norby. He sees Hutchens as an outsider from LA and, worse, a control freak with totalitarian instincts who doesn’t understand a simple rule in politics: “Don’t fix what’s not broken.”
He’s talking about the sheriff’s permits allowing certain qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons (CCW) in public. Soon after taking office, Hutchens abandoned what was considered Carona’s liberal policy. No longer would permits be distributed with little or no thought or, worse, based on contributions to the sheriff’s campaign committee. Anyone seeking a permit (or wanting to keep one) would have to demonstrate “good cause” (for example, a person who carries large amounts of cash in his job or is the subject of death threats) for needing it.
Hostile blowback from gun-rights advocates, including National Rifle Association members, was swift, rocking Norby and other four members of the all-Republican Board of Supervisors. They complained to Hutchens, who has sole responsibility for deciding the county’s CCW policy.
“I’ve never owned a gun, but what she did was spark a revolt,” says Norby. “She didn’t have to do it. Why bother things? No harm, no foul, right? They [permit holders] are not the enemy. These are law-abiding people like Mike Schroeder [an insurance-company owner and political adviser to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas as well as Carona]. There wasn’t a problem. Hutchens has dug in her heels on the CCW issue, and I’m not sure why. I guess she feels they were given out too loosely by Sheriff Carona.”
In heated public and private meetings, board members (who are paying rapt attention to gun-owner outrage and its potential to influence upcoming elections) failed to change Hutchens’ mind or entice her to compromise. Her stance demonstrates that the sheriff has “a midlevel bureaucratic mindset” and is ungrateful for the job, according to the supervisor.
Norby says, “I think some board members who voted to appoint her are thinking, ‘Hey, I appointed you. I stuck my neck out for you. Why are you making things so tough on me?’ Right now, she’s never won an election. She doesn’t have the political mandate from the voters that we do. If she’d been smart about the CCWs, she would have left things in place until after she’d won the election. Then, there might not be an issue at all. But because she’s been appointed, the way I see it is her revocation policy is extreme.”
The NRA has joined Norby in his critique, and the organization has noisily hinted that its members will flood donations to a Hutchens election opponent, though no one, including Walters, has yet officially announced a campaign.
Even union president Wayne J. Quint Jr. of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs believes Hutchens botched the CCW issue.
“I like her personally, but I think she’s politically naive,” says Quint. “As far as any sheriff’s endorsement, I’d say right now the deputies’ union is taking a wait-and-see approach to the upcoming election.”
If the Board of Supervisors had to appoint a sheriff today, the chances of Hutchens winning would be faint, largely due to the CCW drama. But Hutchens tells me she won’t be bullied.
“I take this [CCW] issue very seriously,” she says. “I’m taking the common-sense approach. I don’t view that I have broad discretion to issue the permits. I have to issue them for good cause. That’s the law.”
And the political pressure to bend?
“Typically in politics, you see people give contributions, and they get what they want,” the sheriff says. “When they don’t, they’re mad. There’ve been some thinly veiled [political] threats, but I shouldn’t react to those. Not everybody who asks for a CCW has a right to one.”
She describes her opponents on the issue as “trying to distort my position” by claiming that she’s trying to confiscate people’s guns.
“The CCW area is such a small part of what I do, but it’s been a lightning rod for some people,” she says. “It’s been a distraction to what I’m trying to accomplish in the department, and that’s been hard.”
Dave Gilliard is a Republican campaign strategist who’s working for Hutchens. He says the CCW issue is a positive “when voters read Hutchens’ policy and don’t just rely on the blogs.”
“Look, we now have a sheriff who is going to follow the law,” Gilliard says. “And after the last sheriff, that may take getting used to by some folks, but most people like that idea.”