A former employee of the Refugio County Sheriff’s Office is running a write-in campaign to try to unseat his former boss, in a crowded race for the county’s top law enforcement official.
Incumbent Raul “Pinky” Gonzales is running for his second term in the position as a Republican, and is listed on the ballot alongside Democrat Shelly Haertig. But a third candidate — Matthew Tuttle — decided in May to launch a write-in campaign for the position.
In Texas, sheriffs are elected law enforcement officers who have jurisdiction in their county. They enforce criminal laws and manage the county jail, among other duties. In fiscal year 2019, the Refugio sheriff’s office used about $2.9 million to cover the costs of operating the department and the jail, according to the county’s annual audit.
Gonzales, 65, said he wants to build on the work of his first term.
“I think not only did I serve my community and my county the way I needed to, I’d like to continue serving the people in my community the way they need to be protected and served,” he said.
Gonzales said the sheriff’s department played a key role in the county’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the storm when deputies checked on the residents who had called for help as the hurricane passed through the county. Deputies were not able to safely go out into the county during the middle of the storm, so they logged every call for help that came in through dispatch and checked on residents as soon as the 45 mph winds had died down.
Haertig is running against Gonzales on the Democratic ticket. Haertig has worked in a range of positions, including as a first responder for the Woodsboro Volunteer Fire Department, for the Refugio County Jail, as an emergency medical technician for the county hospital, among others.
“My key focus is to foster and develop community partnerships between all county, city and state law enforcement, EMS, fire and human services to ensure maximum safety and benefits for our community members,” Haertig wrote in a Facebook post.
Voters will have a third option in Matthew Tuttle, a former sheriff’s deputy who started a write-in campaign after quitting the department in May. Tuttle, 29, said he had planned to run for the position in 2024, but decided to run as a write-in candidate because he was concerned about the direction the sheriff’s office was headed.
“I’ve been working for the department for the past eight years, and just don’t necessarily agree with the direction it’s heading in so we can do a little bit better for our people around here,” he said.
Tuttle said he thought deputies were focused too much on patrolling the highways in Refugio County, and were not focused enough on the residents of Refugio County and patrolling and deterring local crime.
In response, Gonzales said deputies typically patrolled SH 35 and U.S. 77 through a federal grant program that pays deputies’ overtime to patrol highways when they aren’t working a federal shift.
As a write-in candidate, Tuttle’s name won’t be listed on the ballot, but voters will have a blank space where they can write in his name.
Early voting for the 2020 general elections begins Tuesday.