I am voting for Steve Harris for sheriff. Several people have called or emailed me to ask why, so I thought I would lay out my thoughts here for everyone to understand.
Background: Steve Harris is a 16 year veteran of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s office; having spent 8 years as a deputy and 8 years as a detective. He is a labor leader, a former president of the deputy’s union. He lives in Bellingham with his wife Lillian and their children. He rides motorbikes and has a keen sense of humor. He is running against 8 year incumbent Bill Elfo for sheriff.
Partisanship: Lots of people have googled “Is Steve Harris a Democrat or Republican?” and arrived at my website, so let’s break it down here. He identifies as a fiscal conservative, but sought both the Democratic and Republican endorsement. Bill Elfo was endorsed by the Whatcom Republicans (he has a long record of involvement with the party, having donated several hundred dollars to the party and their candidates.) On the other side of the aisle, Steve Harris and Bill Elfo narrowly split the votes for the Dem's endorsement with neither candidate getting the necessary 2/3rds majority.
But this brings up another point, what is the partisan position on the issues of the sheriff’s office? We are not deciding who has the best stance on a woman’s right to choose, or who would cut social services. The issues of the sheriff’s office are not as clear cut along party lines as other offices.
Steve Harris is correct on the jail, and Bill Elfo is wrong.
This is the biggest and most direct policy difference between the two candidates. Bill Elfo supports and has championed a 600-bed jail on a site that is way out in the county and contains a fragile wetland. Steve Harris supports a downtown, 500 bed jail. According to the Right Size Jail coalition, 600 beds is way too big for our area, and the added cost of driving prisoners to and from the jail will drive up operating costs. Furthermore, just to prepare the rural location Bill Elfo wants for building, we would have to spend 9 to 11 million dollars just to make it serviceable. That makes no sense. Steve Harris has the right idea; we need a jail that fits our needs, downtown, which keeps costs low.
We are solving fewer crimes (as a percentage) today than we were eight years ago.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert at criminal science but when the number of crimes is going down state-wide, and the number of deputies goes up, doesn’t that mean you have more time to solve crimes? Steve Harris has made this the central focus of his campaign and you can look at all the statistics over on his site here. But the upshot is we need a fresh approach to solving crime in Whatcom County because the current approach isn’t working.
Steve Harris is against the death penalty
As he put it during the Deputy Guild debate, "I believe that no matter how heinous a crime has been committed, it is not our place to decide who lives and who dies.” In the wake of Troy Davis, I appreciate the rather thoughtful approach.
There are tons of other issues, including internal issues about the day to day management of the sheriff’s office that both candidates have raised, and I urge people to poke into this further. I just wanted everyone to know why I’m supporting Steve Harris.
Full disclosure: I should mention that back in May, Steve Harris hired my wife to shoot some of his campaign headshots, which is how I got to know him. This does not diminish my many reasons for supporting Steve, I just thought I should let you know. You can hire Bryna for your photographic needs today. Check out her website here.
Check out my blog tomorrow for my full voting recommendations.
Comments by Readers
James J JohannOct 20, 2011
In your argument that assumes we should be solving more crimes than eight years ago, you fail to take into account significant changes in situation from eight years ago. The issues in the pursuit of crime and solving them in Whatcom County cannot be compared to other counties in Washington State because Whatcom is a border county. The regulatory mandates stemming from 911, especially the ones from the Federal Government which are not funded by it, impose burdens the Sheriff’s Office did not have to deal with in those years.
Your argument for 500 jail beds rather than 600 is strained and contrived. It would never be the Sheriff’s call to ultimately decide that number. It would be County Council’s responsibility, albeit with input from the Sheriff, whether it be Bill Elfo or one with lovely children, who rides motorbikes, and has a keen sense of humor.
Riley SweeneyOct 20, 2011
The Sheriff should be providing leadership on the Jail. Elfo is pushing us in the wrong direction towards a jail that is too big and too expensive for our community. Steve Harris has the right idea and that is one of the reasons why I am voting for him.
Todd GrangerOct 26, 2011
Anyone with a brain would vote for Steve Harris, over Bill Elfo’s Clowns, shown best in those “Rickety Old Steps” of that United States District Courts???
In any real County Sheriffs Department in the State of Washington, these two would be going to jail for Perjury a Criminal Violation with jail time for your local criminal sheriffs deputy.
It’s amusing Riley that any person would vote for this clown, and the new count for jail beds, that truly needed for quite a few deputies in Whatcoms Classic Criminal Law Enforcement agency.
Of course just look up Elfo’s PDC reports, from the Vanderveen Family tree, where 18 USC 242, is Elfo’s and McEachran’s favorite criminal Action Team!