Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson turned away a political challenge by one of his employees Tuesday to easily win a third term.
Christianson was cruising with 66 percent of the vote as of 10:13 p.m., according to unofficial results. Deputy Tom Letras received 34 percent.
The sheriff said he was “very pleased, very grateful” at early returns.
“We’re going to continue the great work we’ve been doing,” Christianson said. “This is good news for the Sheriff’s Department and good news for the community.”
The sheriff enjoyed advantages on several levels, having gathered far more campaign money and endorsements and capitalized on broad name recognition to overcome Letras’ claims of poor department morale under bullying leadership.
Christianson, 51, was first elected in 2006 after a tough battle with then-Assistant Sheriff Mark Puthuff. He successfully defended his post four years later against Rob Jackson, who went on to become police chief in Turlock.
Letras, 41, emerged early in a bid to win his boss’s job, announcing in September 2012 that he would try to unseat Christianson as an acknowledged long shot. Letras had served as department spokesman under former Sheriff Les Weidman and said Christianson should not have laid off as many employees as he did during the recession. The department lost a quarter of its staff.
The race took on another dimension when Tori Hughes, a department lieutenant serving as police chief in Patterson, a city contracting for police services, joined the contest. She had been called to testify against her boss in a 2012 trial that revealed the department’s “limp, lame and lazy” list of injured workers, prompting a public apology from the sheriff and an investigation by county leaders.
Both challengers cited the department’s legal issues. A review of court documents by The Modesto Bee found that cases during Christianson’s tenure had cost taxpayers $9.4 million. Most of that – $5 million – was spent defending the department from lawsuits brought by its own workers.
Hughes had raised more campaign money than Letras by the end of the year but announced in early January that she was pulling out because of an undisclosed medical problem. Eventually she gave tacit support to Christianson, saying the department “has many current positive projects underway needing current experience to keep our department moving forward.”
The sheriff had amassed more than $140,000 as of mid-May, compared to Letras’ $31,372. Christianson also won a coveted endorsement from the patrol deputies’ labor union, a reversal from four years ago when the Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association supported Jackson’s challenge to the sheriff.
Deputies serving as jail guards, however, endorsed Christianson in 2010 but withheld support this time. Custodial deputies have sued the county for the right to carry concealed guns off duty without permits.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.