Ashton: Politics muddles budget, crime remarks

Conflicting goals of explaining budget cuts and seeking public office had Sheriff Adam Christianson straddling both sides of important questions he's fielded during his re-election campaign.

He's facing a challenge from Turlock Police Capt. Rob Jackson. I can't tell you who'd be the better sheriff. Jackson, frankly, hasn't conveyed how he'd be different from Christianson.

Take a look at Christianson having it both ways. These are quotes from The Bee over the past month.

April 13: "I'm laying off deputies, and we've got more bad guys."

April 24: "These cuts go too far; a 9 percent across-the-board cut in all departments does not prioritize public safety."

April 25: "Reductions in services and staffing puts the community at risk. We have made tremendous success in the last four years with our crime rates. We live in a safer community today than we did in 2006, despite our ongoing challenges with gangs and methamphetamine."

April 25: "You simply have to get the job done with the resources you have. We don't want to create public fear; that's not our job.

"We're certainly not going to use the economy or our budgets as an excuse for not getting the job done."

Two statements stoke fears about crime booming as law enforcement departments trim their ranks. Two point out that the county has experienced a general drop in crime over four years.

One says budgets aren't an excuse; another says the latest cuts go too deep.

I read the remarks back to Christianson last week, and he said he could see how a reader might interpret them as conflicting arguments.

But, he said, the statements are part of one thread: The department must balance difficult budget cuts while communicating that people still can count on deputies.

"The message to the community has to be we'll provide a safe community, we'll get that job done with the resources we have," he said.

"I would characterize it as the perfect storm. I didn't expect to mount a re-election campaign with the type of economic challenges we face.

"It's tough to say 'Re-elect the sheriff. We're going to continue to do all these great things, oh, and by the way, we have to reduce our services because there's not enough money.'

"But the community understands that because (the recession has) affected everybody," he said.

Jackson called the comments a form of pandering.

"You're having a politician saying what he thinks the audience wants to hear," the challenger said.

He knocked Christianson's appeal to the Board of Supervisors to take a smaller cut from the Sheriff's Department, arguing the incumbent was using political theater instead of making the best choices with the budget he had. The department is laying off 52 employees to help save $6.4 million.

"Those cuts were presented for shock and awe," Jackson said, adding that he would have targeted management to keep front-line patrol and custodial deputies employed.

And that underscores that the winning candidate has no good choices ahead with continually shrinking revenues laying the foundation for more cuts.

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.