Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Sandra Hutchens announced on Tuesday that she will not seek re-election next year to a fourth term; she endorsed Undersheriff Don Barnes to succeed her.
Hutchens was appointed by sheriff by the OC Board of Supervisors in June 2008 following the resignation of Sheriff Mike Carona, who was engulfed in scandals that eventually sent him to jail. She won election in her own right in 2010, besting former OCSD Lieutenant Bill Hunt – who had challenged Carona in 2006 and unsuccessfully sought appointment as Sheriff in 2008 – and then-Anaheim Police Deputy Chief Craig Hunter. She was unopposed for re-election in 2014.
Hutchens announcement did not come as a surprise and has clearly been in the works for some time. Although critics who have been flogging the ongoing jail snitch story are trying to link her announcement to the issue, county politicos agree the issue was not endangering Hutchens re-election prospects. While the jail snitch issue upsets the ACLU and anti-law enforcement agitators, the political reality is it doesn’t bother voters who are far more concerned about rising crime fueled by the mass release of criminals from incarceration. Most voters assume jail house informants are used routinely and are likely somewhat mystified by the media fuss.
Furthermore, the Orange County Grand Jury let a lot of air out the balloon with its recent “The Myth of the Orange County Jailhouse Informant Program” report, which goes a long way toward inoculating Hutchens and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas from political fallout.
A sure sign that Hutchens decided long ago against seeking re-election was her simultaneous endorsement of Undersheriff Don Barnes – who already had a complete campaign website up-and-running boasting a long list of endorsements, and a campaign team in place (Gilliard Blanning & Associates, a winning firm who have run Hutchens’ campaigns):
Also running is Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington, who retired OCSD deputy who put in 28 years of service with the department. Harrington has promised a top-to-bottom review of the department and criticized last year’s jail breakout by three inmates was a preventable incident.
There are 336,719 registered voters in Orange County, making county-wide political campaigns very expensive. Hutchens spent $502,349 to beat Hunter and Hunt in 2010, winning 52% to avoid a November run-off. If there’s a multi-candidate field, chances are lower a winner emerges from the June primary since there is no incumbent running.
The big gorilla in this contest will be the deputies union, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS). The union obviously has a huge interest in who becomes the next Sheriff-Coroner, and as of December 31, 2016 it had $1,077,304 cash-on-hand in its political action committee. Campaign reports are due to day, and that cash-on-hand figure is likely pushing $1.5 million now. A warchest of that size, along with the union’s law enforcement bona fides, give the AOCDS the ability to decisively impact the outcome of the sheriff election.