The rap on Sheriff Bill Brown — now seeking a third term in office — has long been that he spends too much time in Sacramento. As head of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Brown turned that to his advantage this week, announcing he’d been endorsed by California Governor Jerry Brown and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, political heavyweights in the Democratic Party who normally don’t involve themselves in such local matters. Brown is facing last-minute challenges by two lieutenants — Brian Olmstead and Eddie Hsueh — both long on experience but short on name recognition and campaign cash. Brown is hoping to win outright in June and avoid a November runoff, hence the deployment of such big-ticket endorsements.
Although Sheriff Brown is a Republican, he’s positioned himself as a moderate and pragmatist able to work across the aisle. The local Democratic Party has endorsed Lt. Hsueh, a 31-year veteran who’s championed de-escalation training for law enforcement personnel to minimize violence when dealing with people with mental illness. Olmstead has been backed by Republicans disaffected with Brown and by the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. Both announced their candidacies just a few months prior to the June election. Neither is attacking Brown on his stand on immigration issues — he opposed California’s sanctuary state law — or his handling of emergency evacuations during the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow. Instead, they’re raising issues of morale and community engagement.
Brown was first elected in the wake of a scandal involving big-dollar benefactors seeking to help the Sheriff’s Office. He ran pledging to get a new jail built in North County, something that eluded at least two of his predecessors. (One, former sheriff Jim Thomas, has endorsed Olmstead.) Today, Brown stands about a year away from bringing this promise to fruition. But the path has been rife with controversy and littered with bruised feelings. Of the five county supervisors, only one — Steve Lavagnino — has endorsed Brown’s reelection bid. Two — Joan Hartmann and Peter Adam — have endorsed Olmstead. The other two — Das Williams and Janet Wolf — will not be endorsing anyone.