The race for La Plata County sheriff is one of the most fraught on the ballot. The challenger, Deputy Sean Smith, a Democrat, is seeking to unseat Sheriff Duke Schirard, a Republican who has served five consecutive terms.
Though there’s still a month to go, the campaign already has been hard-fought.
In debates, Schirard has framed the race as one between a tested, experienced law-enforcement official and an ambitious upstart who has never “fired, hired, or disciplined anybody.”
Schirard touts his 40-year career in law enforcement, and frequently invokes triumphs like a new jail, a drug task force and alternatives to juvenile incarceration as highlights of his tenure.
Schirard often says that as sheriff, he has 3,007 statutory responsibilities.
He says that during his tenure, Dylan Redwine’s disappearance is the only major crime to go unsolved. He frequently invokes the role he played during the Missionary Ridge Fire as indicative of his success as a leader.
Smith, meanwhile, says the contest isn’t about the past, but about the future.
On the campaign trail, he says that while Schirard is backward-looking, complacent and out of touch, he has a vision for moving the Sheriff’s Office forward in the next four years, bringing in more hybrid vehicles, outfitting deputies with body cameras and energetically engaging with community organizations.
Smith cites his years of experience as La Plata County sheriff’s deputy and two years he spent as a law-enforcement coordinator with the U.S. Department of Justice in Oklahoma, overseeing a 40-county region, as proof that he is a capable, confident manager.
In the past, Schirard has declared his intention to not enforce Colorado’s new gun laws, which include requiring background checks for all gun sales and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines to no more than 15 rounds, because, in his opinion, they violate the Constitution.
Schirard has accused Smith of being soft on the Second Amendment, saying state Rep. Mike McLachlan, who voted for 2013’s gun control legislation, and his wife, Barbara McLachlan, are among Smith’s most generous campaign donors.
Smith says he is a firm supporter of the Second Amendment and concealed-carry permits.
He has said he, too, thinks large parts of the gun-control legislation will be difficult to enforce.
But he has attacked Schirard’s stance on the gun-control laws, saying it is the sheriff’s job to enforce all laws. If elected, Smith said he wouldn’t consider himself the final arbiter of a law’s constitutionality. He said it is legislators’ job to pass legislation, and the Constitution provides a remedy for people who object to laws legislators pass: judicial review.
Schirard, meanwhile, says that he has a proven history of ushering in transformation.
At debates, he has said when he first came aboard as a sheriff’s deputy, the Sheriff’s Office had three cars and a handful of employees. Now, he oversees hundreds of people and a $15 million budget.