PAVE forum: Sheriff candidates discuss initiatives, 2nd Amendment rights, how to battle drug issues
Last week PAVE (Pottawatomie Advocates for Voter Education) hosted a candidate forum for 11 hopefuls running for offices relating to county and state seats, though two did not participate.
Among them were three candidates running for Pottawatomie County Sheriff: Incumbent Mike Booth, Jeff Griffith and Ben Henderson.
Questions ranged from things like budget concerns due to COVID-19; mental health and medicaid; crime rates; training; roads; and justice reform.
Candidates offered their take on several issues; here are some of the questions and responses.
QUESTION: As a candidate for sheriff, how do you plan on combating the ongoing methamphetamine pandemic, pain-killers and other drugs plaguing our community?
• Henderson — One way of working with that is, we have a variety of agencies around us that do just that. The current administration in the sheriff's office is not set up to solely combat drug crimes. We have to work with other agencies. Those agencies have lots of resources and ability and provide training to agencies that want to help with that type of activity. I think getting more involved with them and allowing ourselves to grow from that and participate a little bit, we'll go a long way.
• Griffith — We need to make sure we utilize drug courts where needed, we need to provide counseling opportunities where they are needed. We need to involve doctors and hospitals and the state government to ensure the laws that we pass are enforceable and appropriate. Our society has become so inherently dependent upon drugs and these chemicals, there are sociological reasons that we can go about that — that basically where there's a demand, they're going to provide drugs to them, and it's going to decimate our country unless we figure out a way to meet the needs of these people. There are things the government can do, we can pass appropriate statutes and legislation and work with doctors and hospitals. If they are illicit drugs, then we need to combat those drugs with task forces and things like that to contain them. There's not one answer to this problem. It's a complex problem.
• Booth — We have a canine program; we have a canine that searches out illegal drugs and we do conduct various investigations around. We do work with state agencies to come in that have the resources and expertise and training to assist us. We work with them on a regular basis, when we have an issue that goes beyond us. We work very well with the Shawnee Police Department that has a good task force, that does that also. Within our local communities, we recognize our offenders and situations they are involved in, we can work with our Tribal agencies in some of those cases. We spend a lot of our time answering calls for a lot of various different things, so we don't have the manpower to just specifically spend on drug investigations all the time — those are task force functions that we would work with continually.
QUESTION: What three initiatives would you like to see in place that would help the Sheriff's Department better serve citizens in this county?
• Henderson — Restructuring the manned staff and overall scheduling in the sheriff's office. Provide better service, faster service to the citizens. Second, keep the canine program and build on it to help with (combatting) the drug problem. Help put deputies out on the street, help our citizens be safer. Third, a vehicle maintenance program, specifically to keep our vehicles running, costs down, and overall save money.
• Griffith — First and foremost, instill a positive working relationship with our partners in the county. The crime rate the sheriff was talking about is a collective crime rate, and that is a very inaccurate stat. It is encompassing the problem for the entirety of Pott. County. We need to create an effective response team to start dealing with our problems collectively, to share costs, to share resources, different things. We need accountability at the sheriff's office. We need a full-blown audit to find out if we're spending money appropriately, wisely, and where's that funding being spent.
• Booth — We have a data-driven system right now; we've got to collect those stats from our crimes in different parts of the county. I split up the county into six districts to be able to assign deputies in each district for days and nights. We're lacking investigators to follow up on these crimes — it doesn't do any good to report a crime and never follow up on that. I don't have enough investigators, but I have more than we've ever had. We work with nine of the 10 agencies that work in Pottawatomie County as deputies. And we get resources from counties that help us when we have a need, as well.
QUESTION: According to the latest CDC statistics, of the 20 states with the highest gun deaths per capita — which includes Oklahoma — 11 of those states allow permit-less carry; 34 states have apparently seen the benefit of not allowing permit-less carry. In light of this fact, do you feel that Oklahoma firearm laws need to be loosened or strengthened?
• Griffith — I think they are just about right. The 2nd Amendment is pretty clear, we have a right to keep and bear arms. We also have a right to ensure we have responsible ownership and use of those weapons. High crime rates are attributed in some areas for handguns more so than rifles, but I think the open carry has not been a big problem. It does make police officers a little more nervous because we're not accustomed to being around people that are armed in our immediate proximity. I think the 2nd Amendment is a viable tool today; I think it's just as important today as it was when it was written. I think we need to keep our people prepared to defend themselves. I would not be the kind of guy to deny them the right to protect themselves.
• Booth — I think we've got to deal with Oklahoma, and Oklahomans, as not worry about what the rest of the country does — and the same goes for Pottawatomie County. What they do in Wanette may be different then what they do in McLoud, etc. In February this year, I declared Pott. County a 2nd Amendment sanctuary county because we have a lot of people out there that want to do good, that want to be a better law-abider, that want to be able to carry their gun to protect themselves, because they know it doesn't matter where you live, law enforcement can't get there in time to help them or save their family. What I'd offer, because I have a firearm simulation system, I'd offer civilian groups to come to our training so we can get them trained on how to properly handle their firearm and deal with situations they may encounter in their homes or on the street.
• Henderson — I don't think they need to go anywhere — loosened or strengthened. I think they are just right. We are in a 2nd Amendment County and that's great; here we have open-carry. It's somewhat my experience that they're very responsible. I would like to see maybe a little more training for the average individual as far as the use if, but as far as carrying and having their firearms in their homes and on their person, I'm okay with it the way it is.
For District 2 County Commissioner, Incumbent Randy Thomas and Jason Evans seek the seat.
Competing for the state Senate District 17 position are Incumbent Ron Sharp, Brandon Baumgarten and Shane Jett.
Vying to secure the state Senate District 28 seat are Zack Taylor, Mike Haines and Christian Ford.
The election is June 30.
Visit news-star.com to view more stories reporting candidate responses to some of the top issues discussed at the forum.