Saturday, March 03, 2012

TOP STORY >> Sheriff’s race draws six candidates

Leader staff writer

Despite filing last week, Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson will not run again. His 10th year will be his last. Six lawmen are now running for his job.

He pulled his name from a list of candidates at 11 a.m. Thursday, one hour before the filing deadline, which opened the door for three of his top officers to file for his job.

Capt. Steve Finch and Lt. James Kulesa, both Republicans, and Chief Deputy Dean White, a Democrat, filed after Roberson pulled out.

Roberson said his actions were not calculated to hold the position for one deputy.

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said.

Asked if he supported a particular deputy for his job, Roberson said he did, but he isn’t saying which one.

The sheriff said he waffled for weeks before filing. Sometimes he wanted to run and sometimes he didn’t, he said. And filing changed little. Finally, he decided to finish this year and then devote more time to raising cattle.

Roberson had a heart attack three years ago. He says he is fully recovered and as strong as ever. But he is concerned about the effect another campaign could have on his health.

“A campaign is like a rollercoaster,” Roberson pointed out.

The three top deputies are all good men, the sheriff said, and all three are capable of doing the job. But he said he is angry with part-time deputy Jason Wilkinson and Austin Police Chief John Staley, who filed after telling him they wouldn’t run if he did. Staley and Wilkinson are Republicans. “I don’t do business like that,” Roberson said.

The sheriff didn’t comment on Democrat Steve Rich, the Pulaski County deputy who has run against him before.

Roberson said he has warned his deputies that they can’t campaign while on duty. And if they start bickering, they’ll have to take leave until the election. That could be until November since three deputies are Republican and one is a Democrat.

The sheriff said he won’t allow a campaign to hurt the department. “We’ve got too good of a department. We’ve come too far,” he said.

Roberson said for the rest of 2012, he’s the sheriff and he will keep doing his job.

“I’m going to give the county 100 percent like I always have and then let someone else have it,” he said.

Roberson said he is grateful to the voters who have let him serve.

“They gave me a good 10 years and I appreciate them,” he said.