Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Actor Chuck Norris, an Oklahoman who has gained worldwide notice starring in motion pictures and a long-running television series, was featured prominently on a campaign mailer targeting Republican voters in Oklahoma County this week. Norris was the star of a mailer encouraging GOP voters to vote for incumbent Sheriff John Whetsel, a Democrat who has served in the county’s top law enforcement position since 1997.
Norris said he has “seen the professionalism of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office brought about by Sheriff John Whetself. He is a law enforcement leader who is honest and progressive and truly cares about the safety of citizens.
“Law enforcement should not be about political affiliation. As an active conservative Republican and being from Okalhoma myself, I always support the best person for the job.” He called Whetsel “the best choice.”
Additional Republicans endorsing Whetsel, according to mailer, included Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and several other mayors in the state’s most populous county: Brian Linley (Del City), Matt Dukes (Midwest City), Ray Poland (Jones), Larry Fryar (Harrah), Randy Ross (Choctaw), Charles Lamb (Edmond), Nick Cochell (Nicoma Park) and Dorothy Winston (Forest Park).
Also backing the incumbent Democrat were Generals Tom Stafford, Rita Aragon and Dick Hefton.
Gun owners’ rights groups also back the incumbent, including the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
Whetsel’s recent campaign mailer was headlined, “Please don’t vote a straight party ticket. If you do, you will not vote for the only qualified candidates for Sheriff. ...”
State Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, gained his party’s nod without a primary. He has made criticisms of the Oklahoma County jail the center of his candidacy.
In a September campaign forum, the challenger assailed several of Whetsel’s policies. Whetsel defended his agency’s support for local law enforcement, and repeated his view that additional resources are needed for effective jail management (http://city-sentinel.com/2016/09/debate-kicks-off-campaign-for-oklahoma-county-sheriff/).
Late last month, Rep. Christian sent a statement to news organizations, including CapitolBeatOK, stating he has developed plans for “a new modern Oklahoma County detention center.” He said the plan “is the result of months of intensive research into the most up to date procedures and technology. This forward thinking approach is a breath of fresh air and will make the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office more efficient in order to better meet the needs of the residents of Oklahoma County.”
The state Republican party mailed a campaign circular last month aimed at registered members of the GOP. The four-panel color circular focused on his support for gun owners’ rights, stricter law enforcement, his work as chairman of the state House Public Safety Committee, and criticisms of Whetsel’s jail management.
However, that mailer became a source of controversy due to claims that three Republican members of Congress – U.S. Reps. Steve Russell and Tom Cole, and U.S. Sen. James Lankford – supported this candidacy. The trio disavowed Christian’s assertion. Additionally, Christian’s unauthorized use of their official government photographs -- examined in a news story for The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper – drew widespread criticism.
The news report detailed several problems with Christian’s mailer.
On its editorial page, The Oklahoman endorsed Whetsel on October 28, writing that the sheriff “manages a jail that's often at capacity, is in regular need of repair and whose high-rise design makes it difficult for deputies to properly monitor inmates. The county needs a new lockup, but just as importantly’needs systemwide reforms that result in fewer people being jailed in the first place. Whetsel is ‘100 percent committed’ to those efforts, which are in the works with the help of out-of-state consultants.
“A recent state audit criticized Whetsel for failing to pay the jail's medical provider for several months in 2015. It also cited other concerns related to jail finances and said Whetsel acted at times without the OK of county commissioners. Whetsel responded by accepting responsibility for the office, and said steps have been taken to address auditors' concerns.”
The state’s largest newspaper reaffirmed its endorsement today (Sunday, November 6) in an editorial recapping recommendations in several races and on state questions.
In its September edition, The City Sentinel newspaper, which covers events and news in the heart of Oklahoma City, endorsed Sheriff Whetsel for reelection (http://city-sentinel.com/2016/10/an-endorsement-for-john-whetsel/).