By Dave LaMontaine
During a recent conversation between Executive Director Orlowski and myself, we were lamenting the lack of interest of deputy sheriffs’ in politics. I had previously discussed the situation we had in Monroe County, and Larry asked me to tell the story.
Well friends, I do believe it is a story worth telling. It has been over three years now since the Monroe County Deputy Sheriff’s Association was forced to “go to war” to save jobs for deputies. At the time, our association had an on-again off-again political relationship with some local politicians. We had three county commissioners out of nine who were friendly to our needs. The then Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, in an unprecedented move, basically demanded millions of dollars in budget cuts from the sheriff. The sheriff advised that he would have to cut personnel in order to meet the unrealistic demands of the chairman.
I was the VP of the MCDSA at the time, and took the lead in the defense of these jobs. At the time, we had no political operation, no PAC, and no previous experience in this field. What we did have was an active and supportive membership, and an executive board that was willing to do whatever it took to save these jobs.
Monroe County is a largely rural community, basically split 50-50 democrats and republicans. Most folks here are conservative in nature and support the police. The Sheriff’s Office handles 90% of the calls for police service in the county, and calls for service were on the rise, along with the population.
The MCDSA engaged in a multi-media campaign to educate the community to our plight. The first thing we did was to establish a website. The thought behind that was that everything we did would reference the web site, where it would be relatively cheap to disseminate information. Next we made approximately 10 signs that read, “stop deputy layoffs” “call your commissioner”. At the bottom of the sign was our website address. On the website was the photograph, name and phone number of each Commissioner. Voicemail boxes filled. We launched an ad campaign in the local newspaper. We included facts, figures, staffing levels, calls for service etc. Every time there was a County Commissioner meeting, we were there. Every time there was an opportunity for public comment, we spoke. Soon letters to the editor began, and not only were we writing letters, public support began to swell in our favor. Ultimately, we were able to avert any lay-offs.
The next step was to target those on our County Board who were behind the cuts. The Monroe County Deputy Sheriff’s Association actively sought out candidates to run against those who sought to do us harm. We were able to find five candidates to run for seats. One of our opposition passed away, and another chose not to run if he was going to have to expend money to do it. Each candidate had at least one deputy sheriff on his or her campaign committee. We held a fundraiser, opened a PAC and gave money to candidates.
We did not win all those seats, but we won three. We also tied a 10-year incumbent in the primary and lost that race by pulling a name out of a coffee can. We were able to switch the tide from three in our favor to six in our favor. This was unprecedented.
The last stage of the battle was contract negotiations. Often overlooked, it was never our intent to use the relationships we formed with our board for monetary gain. The opposition could not wait for us to “cash in” with the new commissioners. Instead our requests were in line with comparables, and negotiations went very smoothly.
Many of us gave up our summer to campaign for those candidates we picked to run. Many of us spent our own money attending their fundraisers, all of it absolutely necessary.
As President of the MCDSA now, I often speak about what we did here, and I still get guys who say “I hate politics.” Well, so do most people. Politics is all about relationships. We have formed many over the years, some of those still bear fruit for our association. I once heard someone say that we plant the seed today so future generations can enjoy the shade. That is how I see the necessary involvement in politics of Deputy Sheriffs’ Associations. We cannot always depend on excellent organizations like DSAM, POAM and GCSI to do all the heavy lifting for us. Forge those relationships, and you will reap what you sow.