Sheriff Sandra Hutchens greets voters in Santa Ana. She said she needed… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
With a decisive mandate from voters, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said Wednesday she is finally moving past critics who have characterized her as a liberal interloper out of touch with conservative Orange County.
As she entered the department Wednesday morning, undersheriffs, lieutenants and secretaries burst into applause.
"Welcome, elected sheriff,'' Undersheriff John Scott said.
"Yes, remove the word 'appointed,' " Hutchens said.
Hutchens took nearly 52% of the vote in Tuesday's election, defeating former Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Bill Hunt and Anaheim Deputy Police Chief Craig Hunter. For more than two years she has fended off questions about the legitimacy of her 3-2 appointment by the Board of Supervisors after the indictment of former Sheriff Michael S. Carona on federal corruption charges.
Now it's time to get back to work, Hutchens said.
"I now have the mandate of the public,'' said Hutchens, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department veteran brought in to clean house in an agency ravaged by power-brokering, sex scandals and internal politics. "It gives credit to what we have been doing."
Fred Smoller, who directs a public administration program at Brandman/Chapman University, said Tuesday's election suggests that the county Republican Party's more moderate flank may be gaining power over a conservative cabal that has long enjoyed a chummy relationship with county leaders.
"Sandra was not particularly loved by the Mike Schroeders and the traditional power brokers, and she was able to win,'' said Smoller, referring to the former president of the state Republican Party who was an advisor to Carona. "It's not so much a revolution from the bottom, as a split within factions of the Republican Party."
Voters also settled another divisive sheriff's contest. Ventura County Sheriff's Cmdr. Geoff Dean easily defeated Dennis Carpenter, outgoing Sheriff Bob Brooks' hand-picked successor, winning nearly 60% of the vote.
Dean, who was fired by Brooks two years ago for alleged insurbordination, was relishing his change in fortune Wednesday.
"It's a good feeling,'' he said while fielding congratulatory calls. "I'm grateful to the voters who put their support behind me."
The department veteran, 53, said it is too early to say what changes, if any, he will make to the sheriff's command staff when he takes office in January. All of the sitting sheriff's executive staff backed Carpenter. Dean, however, made clear that he intends to run the agency in a more collaborative fashion than his predecessor, seeking ideas and information from middle-level managers and police chiefs across Ventura County.
Ventura voters also showed the door to Audra Strickland, a termed-out Republican assemblywoman who attempted to unseat incumbent Linda Parks on the Board of Supervisors for the seat representing Thousand Oaks and nearby unincorporated areas.
Strickland and her backers spent more than $400,000 on a barrage of attack mailers, outspending Parks 5 to 1, but captured only 40% of the vote to Parks' 60%.
In Orange County's contested 4th District Supervisor's race, Fullerton Councilman Shawn Nelson and Anaheim Councilman Harry Sidhu were the top vote-getters and will face each other in the November runoff.