Time and again, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has played defense at public debates with her two challengers in the upcoming June election. She smiles uncomfortably quite a bit, tap dances around most controversies and, generally, refuses to take aggressive swings at Bill Hunt or Craig Hunter. Indeed, during much of the last two years in office (filling the unexpired term of Mike Carona) she's made no secret of her distaste for political mudslinging.
But there's apparently a new sheriff in town, and you have to wonder if the cause is Hunt's rise in the polls.
During this afternoon's taping of Rick Reiff's Inside OC on KOCE public television, Hutchens displayed her newfound feistiness. She called Hunt “the bail bonds [industry] representative” in the campaign and chided Hunter, Anaheim's deputy police chief, for having no plan to solve the massive budget shortfalls at the Orange County Sheriff's Department. She also implied that Hunter's jail reform suggestions are meritless because he has no experience running a county jail.
Hunt, a former sheriff's lieutenant and San Clemente police chief who has won the endorsement of the bail bonds industry, claimed that Hutchens has botched her concealed weapons permit policy by being unnecessarily restrictive, wasted jail space by releasing prisoners early, coddled county inmates by feeding them three instead of two meals a day, refused to crack down on illegal-immigrant criminals and failed to provide inspiring leadership to the department's massive workforce.
Hunter wasn't tame either. He said Hutchens has mismanaged budgets to the point of “jeopardizing public safety,” is allowing systematic jail corruption, tolerates a code of silence among dirty officers and, in general, hasn't proved open to law enforcement innovation.
Hutchens repeatedly shook her head during the debate and defended her record as one of accomplishment in the wake of the Carona corruption scandals.
The nastiest exchange belonged to Hunt and Hunter, though. Hunter told Hunt–who has won the endorsement of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, “The danger with unions is you can be influenced.”
Hunt didn't let the punch go without throwing an immediate counter-jab.
“You can also be influenced by a wayward party as one of my opponents who was just speaking is,” said Hunt, who has claimed that Hunter is a tool of the local Republican Party establishment.
You can see the 30-minute broadcast tonight at 7 p.m. on KOCE. A repeat broadcast of the show will air throughout the week. Check listings for times.
–R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly