Somebody tell David Bateman, Doug Witney and Richard Mack that politics isn't supposed to be this entertaining.
The three Republican candidates for Utah County sheriff provided a good show for deputy sheriffs and county convention delegates at a debate Tuesday. It certainly wasn't the usual political fare.Perhaps that's because two of the candidates, Bateman and Witney, openly admit they aren't politicians and don't even like politics while the third, Mack, is an experienced speaker who knows how to wow a crowd.
Bateman, Utah County sheriff since 1985, came across as perhaps the most sincere but least polished of the three. He seemed to endear himself to the audience at Mountain View High School by acknowledging his weakness.
"I'm a poor public speaker, but that doesn't mean I'm stupid," said Bateman, who became emotional several times during the two-hour debate. "Mary Poppins said, `To everything that must be done, there's an element of fun.' I've been struggling all night to figure out what's fun about this experience."
Bateman, 57, of Alpine, relied heavily on his record as sheriff during the last 13 years when telling county delegates why they should vote for him at the May 2 Republican convention in Orem.
Witney, a white-collar crime investigator with the Utah County attorney's office, stressed the new energy and ideas he would bring to the job.
"I have some ideas I have looked at, and I see that we could reallocate some resources to put the deputies where the crime is without raising taxes," said Witney, 48, of Springville.
Meanwhile, 45-year-old Mack, former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., presented himself as a charismatic leader who would seek raises for deputy sheriffs and champion the constitutional rights of Utah County residents.
"Quite honestly, if the people are to remain in power it is essential that their right to keep and bear arms not be infringed," said Mack, who grabbed national head-lines when he successfully challenged a portion of the federal Brady gun-control law before the Supreme Court several years ago.
Mack was the only candidate to get a standing ovation from the crowd, which was restricted to delegates and members of the Utah County Deputies Association or an auxiliary association. Mack seemed to have strong support from those in attendance, perhaps due to the fact that he probably has campaigned more heavily among delegates than have his opponents thus far.
Mack got a few jeers as well as some cheers when he said he doesn't favor the sheriff's office using roadblocks to check for drunken or uninsured drivers.
"The success of a law enforcement program does not make it constitutional," he said. "I don't approve of using them as fishing expeditions to make arrests."
Utah County deputy sheriff Skip Curtis, president of the deputies' association, said the debate will play a key part in the association's decision next week as to whom it will support in the race.
"My belief is that the informed decision is the right decision," Curtis said. "We want the right man for the job not only because he will be our boss but also because he'll be doing things that affect our families."
Mack said he doesn't approve of some of the mudslinging that already has taken place in the campaign. His critics accuse him of being a right-wing extremist, a racist and a militia supporter.
None of those allegations were brought up Tuesday, but Mack did address the issue of his switch from the Democratic Party in Arizona to seeking the Republican nomination in Utah County.
"I will support and fight for this document," he said, holding up a copy of the county Republican Party's platform. "This is one of the best platforms I've seen in my life."
Witney proposed creating a countywide data tracking system that would be accessible to all police departments as well as the sheriff's office. He also said he plans to create a consumer fraud division within the sheriff's office if elected.
Despite insinuations from both challengers that he hadn't done enough to stem the rising tide of crime in Utah County, Bateman defended his administration. He cited several examples of programs he instituted to reduce crime.
"In a nutshell: If it isn't broken, why fix it?" Bateman asked. "Let me remind you that it takes four years to correct a mistake."
Mack's views diverged from the others' concerning acceptance of federal grants. While Bateman and Witney said they are necessary to keep local taxes down, Mack said he does not support the idea of taking federal funds for law enforcement because there are too many strings attached.