Both Lawson and Ruth are employed within the Sheriff’s Office and have dominated election attention over the past few weeks through a series of newspaper and electronic ads attacking one another’s performance record, political views and accessibility to the voters.
In press releases of their own, incumbent Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble defended his department’s work while Bradley County Republican Party chairman Jonathan Cantrell urged Lawson to concentrate on his Republican opponent (Ruth) and not the party chairman (Cantrell).
Both statements have come in response to political advertising by the candidates.
“As the sitting sheriff, I have intentionally refrained from making any public comments or endorsements regarding the current Bradley County Sheriff’s race,” Gobble said. Gobble is not seeking re-election because he is a candidate in the Republican Primary of the 3rd Congressional District race.
The sheriff referred to a paid political ad published earlier this week by the Ruth campaign attacking Lawson as an “ineffective and inept leader” because the Democrat “ ... replaced an effective and productive Drug Enforcement Unit at the Sheriff’s Office with one that has so far been ineffective and not very productive.” The ad cited a declining drug fund balance as evidence.
Gobble’s statement says he replaced the Drug Unit leadership in 2006, not Lawson. Further, he defended the work of the Sheriff’s Drug Unit by quoting TBI crime statistics which he says shows the unit to be “ ... one of the most effective in the state.”
“From 2006 through 2009, there has been a 45 percent increase in arrests for narcotics violations by the BCSO Drug Unit and overall crime has decreased 16 percent in Bradley County in the last two years alone,” the statement reads. “Burglaries and thefts related to narcotics trafficking are also significantly reduced.”
Gobble acknowledged the Drug Fund balance has declined over the last few years, but not because of departmental performance.
The sheriff explained, “Just prior to the date I assumed office, the Drug Unit made a million-dollar seizure from the interstate. This lawful seizure inflated the average balance of the Drug Fund for a period of years to a level never before seen in Bradley County. Over time these funds were lawfully used to purchase needed vehicles and equipment at a savings to taxpayers to help fund the ongoing and lawful operations of the Sheriff’s Office.”
He said most drug-related seizures are much smaller than the million-dollar one that beefed up the Drug Fund balance. Currently, the Drug Fund has more than $200,000 in accumulated seized cash, the sheriff said.
Gobble credited the work of the BCSO Drug Unit, including its management by Lawson and John Stone.
“Each member of the Drug Unit is to be commended for the professional job they do on a daily basis to protect the citizens of this community and the lives of young people from the scourge of drugs and violence,” Gobble said. “To question their effectiveness using one statistic in a political ad is unjustified. I approve all Drug Fund expenditures and the real record shows the BCSO is highly effective.”
In his statement, Cantrell charged Lawson with using paid political advertising to lure him into the back-and-forth Sheriff’s race. An excerpt from the Lawson campaign ad, published July 11, said Cantrell in 2009 “ ... approached me and asked me to run for the office of sheriff on the Republican ballot.” The ad went on to say, “Mr. Cantrell told me I would surely be the party’s nominee.”
In his response to the ad, Cantrell acknowledged last year he “bumped into Mr. Lawson at a public gathering.” In his statement, Cantrell said he “ ... offered Mr. Lawson the chance to prove his newly developed conservative platform. I invited him, as a self-professed conservative, to follow the lead of Ronald Reagan and participate in the primary before the majority of county voters.”
Cantrell’s statement closed, “Our local party possesses good and hard-working men and women who volunteer their time and talents to create a better Bradley County. I have loved representing them and gladly stand with them in this election. I respectfully ask that Steve Lawson focus his debate on his opponent, Jim Ruth, rather than on private citizens such as myself.”
Lawson and Ruth continued their sparring Thursday in a two-candidate forum at the Cleveland Kiwanis Club luncheon. Each blamed the other and urged a cleaner campaign leading up to the Aug. 5 County General election.
“I have tried my best to run this campaign on a positive note,” Ruth told Kiwanians. He said once attacks start, then it leads to other attacks and they continue to build upon themselves.
Lawson said he is willing to run a clean campaign and told Ruth, “If you want to leave here today and say, ‘no more negative ads and we will run positive the rest of the way,’ I am glad to do that.”