Embattled lawman victor against novice challenger
State Sen. Steve King celebrated a victory and a birthday Tuesday night after cruising to a 69 percent to 29 percent Republican primary victory in the race for Mesa County sheriff and said he was looking forward to dealing with a variety of issues in the department.
Overshadowing the victory was the release of an internal affairs report that concluded King filed misleading timecards as a temporary employee of the department.
Asked whether he could overcome the report’s conclusions, King said that his side of the issue had yet to be fully aired.
“I think you overcome (the report) with leadership,” King said, noting that he had used his time working in the department to become familiar with the issues jail and patrol deputies face on a daily basis.
The jail is understaffed, he said, leading to unnecessary expense and threats to officers and inmates. Rookie patrol officers often are being paid $4 an hour more than the deputies who are training them, leading to issues both with morale and retention.
Supporters of King’s challenger, John Pennington, noted that news of King’s firing by outgoing Sheriff Stan Hilkey was bottled up for a week, hindering Pennington’s bid for the post.
“It kind of stinks,” Pennington told a supporter, adding, “I’m not going to lose faith over what’s gone on here.”
Pennington had run as a self-proclaimed constitutional sheriff candidate, attracting tea party and other conservative support. He acknowledged that his bid was a long shot, but also questioned whether news of King’s firing was bottled up for political reasons.
As to whether King can overcome the internal affairs report, Pennington said he doubted it.
“Who wants a sheriff that’s dishonest?” Pennington said.
The internal investigation of King was conducted by Rebecca Spiess, then the undersheriff and now the sheriff until a new one is sworn in next year.
The command staff already in the department contains some “very talented people” who were hired by Hilkey and his predecessor, Riecke Claussen, King said.
“I’ve definitely had people who want to go for coffee and talk,” he said.
King won’t face a Democrat challenger in the November election, but Mesa County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Arotin has said he plans to petition onto the November ballot as unaffiliated.
Two write-in candidates, Mike Harlow and Benita Phillips, are expected to try and challenge for the job as well.