- July 15, 2012 | By: John Pretti, Examiner.Com
The state of Florida has 67 counties and during an election year, such as this year, every county sheriff’s position is up for re-election in November. With one exception, Miami-Dade has a Director of the Police Department who acts as sheriff. The Office of the Sheriff is only unique to the United States and due its major role during the western expansion became a familiar theme on television. One of the most talked about sheriffs was Sheriff Andy Taylor of the town of Mayberry. The recent death of Andy Griffith at age 86, who played the part of the popular sheriff, brought on even more attention to the role of the sheriff. Out of all the some 260 episodes of the Andy Griffin Show over eight years, was there ever one that involved the election of Andy Taylor or his running for the town sheriff. Here in Florida, it happens every four years.
In Leon County the present sheriff is Sheriff Larry Campbell who has been the county sheriff for the past 12 and longer than Andy Taylor. In 2004, Sheriff Campbell ran unopposed and was re-elected with little or no campaigning. This election year, Sheriff Campbell has two candidates running against him. The election signs, bumper stickers and campaign flyers are now out in full force. The two candidates have an uphill battle to compete against the incumbent who has more experience in not only the position, but running a campaign. Today this examiner counted over 20 re-elect Sheriff Campbell campaign signs along Capitol Circle as compared to 4 put up by his opponents. Also in the mail today was re-elect Larry Campbell flyers in the mailbox. Campaigning for re-election costs money and it is reported that Sheriff Campbell far out sourced his two opponents.
In Wakulla County, the former Sheriff David Harvey for the past 35 years resigned under pressure due to his involvement with the local golf course’s liquor license and his financial dealings with a club that served alcohol in violation of the law. The former sheriff also was involved in a hit and run accident that caused a stir between the Florida Highway Patrol and the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office. Alcohol was claimed to have been involved, but never substantiated. During his re-election campaign in 2008, a former FHP trooper, Charlie Creel ran against him and the election ended with a recount vote that Harvey won by 47 votes. Ex-trooper Charlie Creel is running again and his opponent is a current Major in WCSO, Maurice Langston.
This examiner has been a criminal justice instructor serving overseas with the Department of Defense and had many friends that were German police officers. The Germans were fascinated by the role of the sheriff and on many occasions ask this examiner to explain the difference in the role of the sheriff and the position of police chief. All most all were surprised to learn that the sheriff is elected and requires little, or no, background in law enforcement. The chief of police is selected usually by the city manager and is based on merit and experience while the sheriff is elected merely on popularity and politics. Foreigners who only know the American sheriff from watching TV, such as “Gunsmoke” and “Rawhide”, thought the sheriff had to be a tough law man and were surprised to learn that even women can be elected sheriff. To this fact, one of Sheriff Campbell’s opponents is female Lisa Spraque who does claim an extensive law enforcement background. Florida currently has two female elected sheriffs.
Even some Floridians are surprise to know that anyone can run for the office of county sheriff in the state of Florida. The qualifications are to be all of 18 years of age or older, live in the county, possess a valid Florida driver’s license and have no felony convictions. In order to get on the ballot, the candidate must obtain 1% of the counties registered voters signatures or pay a 4% of the office holder’s salary as a filing fee to the county supervisor of elections. Once qualified, the next step is to get out and campaign or “run” for office. All those campaign signs, bumper stickers, buttons, fliers, etc., cost money. The election of the candidate running for sheriff does favor the candidate with the most money and exposure. Sheriff Larry Campbell’s only negative may be his age. In Wakulla County, it is a tossup since Charlie Creel has exposure from his unsuccessful bid last election, but the locals may favor an insider who knows the workings of the current sheriff’s office. However, some locals also believe an insider may just promote former Sheriff Harvey’s cronyisms. This campaign for sheriff in all counties will be interesting to watch.
The running for sheriff has inherent problems for the incumbent due to the implied, or real, power the position projects to the citizen. Both Campbell and Harvey have been accused in the past for utilizing on-duty deputies to campaign for them. Citizens are encouraged to file complaints with the Florida Election Commission concerning real, or perceived, harassment during political campaigns. The laws for campaigning are listed in the Florida statutes in Chapters 104 and 106. All qualified candidates are furnished an election handbook by the County Supervisor of Elections. During one of Charlie Creel’s rallies in Wakulla County, he made it clear to his supporters that he would run a clean campaign with no “dirty” politics with an obvious referral to former Sheriff Harvey’s 2008 campaign.