John Whetsel has faced a number of challengers during his 16 years as Oklahoma County sheriff. He does so again this year. But Whetsel's biggest challenge may come from a man who lives 1,500 miles away — President Barack Obama.
Obama is on the Nov. 6 ballot, of course, and he can be toxic to fellow Democrats such as Whetsel. We saw that in Oklahoma two years ago when Republicans won every statewide office, often by tying their opponents to Obama or his policies. Whetsel's opponent is trying to do the same this year. Voters shouldn't be swayed. Whetsel is clearly the best choice for sheriff. He deserves another term.
Whetsel, 63, points proudly to an 86 percent reduction in crime incidents in unincorporated areas of Oklahoma County since he took office in 1997, and a similar drop in traffic accidents. He also boasts about the changes made to the jail following a highly critical report by the U.S. Justice Department in 2007. Those changes include the addition of jailers and staff, a new camera system to better monitor inmates, and improvements in physical and mental health care.
Challenger Darrell Sorrels, 58, of Midwest City, is a former sheriff's department employee who now works for the U.S. Marshals Service as a contract security officer. Sorrels has vowed not to accept federal grants to help run the sheriff's office. He aligns himself with the ultraconservative John Birch Society. His campaign manager recently fed to the head of the Sooner Tea Party, another fringe outfit, information suggesting that a reserve deputy was a potential terrorist. Sorrels said he didn't know if the accusations were valid, but “If it's true, it's serious.” Really?
The challenger hopes to make this race primarily about party affiliation. Instead, it should be based on qualifications. By that measure, Whetsel is the obvious choice.