Downing, George battle again for sheriff
Saline County voters will have just one opportunity for choice in the upcoming Aug. 5th primary election, at least for county offices.
The only contested race for county office is for sheriff, with Richard "Dick" Downing and incumbent Wally George both running for sheriff on the Democratic ticket.
This isn't the first time Downing and George have met on the political battlefield.
Downing challenged George in the 2004 election primary. While Downing carried Grand Pass, Mt. Leonard, Nelson, Orearville and Sweet Springs -- where he is chief of police -- George took Blackburn, Malta Bend and Emma. George's lead was slim, with Downing chipping away at it, until votes from Marshall were counted. Three of Marshall's four wards gave the decisive lead to George by at least 150 votes in each ward, and in Ward 1, he came two votes shy of a 300-vote lead. Overall, George finished with a comfortable lead of more than 1,000 votes to take another 4-year term.
This year, the two are fighting it out again.
Downing has been the chief of police in Sweet Springs since October 2003. He was a deputy in the Saline County Sheriff's Department for 26 years before that. He began as a jailer in the sheriff's department, then became a road deputy, was an investigator for the prosecuting attorney's office for four years and was chief deputy of the department for over a decade.
Downing has training in counterintelligence, special weapons and tactics (SWAT) and running a voice stress analyzer. He is an FBI firearms range master and an instructor for concealed weapons permits.
"I've been in law enforcement my entire adult life," Downing said in a recent interview for this story.
If he's elected, Downing said, "I want to put together a drug task force, with full-time investigators."
"We're always hitting the low-level dealers here, but no 'big guys' have been captured yet," he said.
He'd also like to develop a "working relationship with all local law enforcement communities," and wants all the towns in the area to know their local law enforcement officers better.
With 754 square miles to cover, Downing believes there should be more than just one or two deputies available, particularly during the overnight hours.
Downing's plans also include an effort to make the Saline County Justice Facility a self-supporting entity.
"I'd like to go ahead and get in the 'hotel/motel' business," he said, pointing out that federal prisoners could be boarded at the jail at the rate of $100 per day. Currently, he said, the jail does house prisoners from other areas, but charges only about $35 per day for the service.
"The jail holds 64 people," he said. If we house enough prisoners there's a chance we wouldn't have to support the jail with another tax like we did recently."
"We need better coverage on our rural areas, on the farms," he added.
He said gas is being stolen from many farms "and it's happening more frequently now," but often isn't reported.
Downing said he believes these incidents are not reported "because (victims) feel like it won't do any good. They also don't report little thefts they have, or just write it off. A lot are afraid if they say something, someone will come back and do worse."
Downing says that's a mistake.
"If you report it, it's serious enough that someone should show up and answer the call. If it's important enough to call it in, it's important enough to show up and do something about it."
Incumbent Sheriff Wally George started his employment with the sheriff's department in 1970 as a dispatcher, then became a road deputy and then chief deputy. In the late 1960s, he spent about three years at the Slater Police Department under then-Chief Hal Smith Sr. He was appointed sheriff when Henry Hoff died Nov. 4, 1979, and was elected to the position in a special election that December. He credits Hoff and Smith for teaching him about law enforcement.
George has also spent hundreds of hours training and is certified as an instructor for firearms, defense tactics and use of a police baton. He is also certified to handle a narcotics-finding dog.
He, too, has spent his entire life in law enforcement, all of it in Saline County.
"I absolutely love helping Saline County citizens," he said. "I enjoy being here for the people."
George said he doesn't believe in "strutting around and being important. I've always operated on the belief that I'm 'one of the people.' I stand with them, not above them."
And, he said, "When I hire new people for the department, one of the first things I tell them is 'don't try to be important.' I won't tolerate that."
"I've lived in Saline County all my life, except for service to my country in Vietnam. This is home to me. When I became sheriff in 1979, I was the youngest sheriff in the state of Missouri -- now, after 29 years, I'm the senior sheriff in the state, with 38 years in the department," he said.
George has seen a lot of change in law enforcement in the years he's been with the sheriff's department. He said law enforcement constantly changes and he has grown with the change throughout the years, including overseeing the Saline County Criminal Justice Center built in 1998.
In an interview for the 2004 election, he said, "There's nothing about the sheriff's department that I don't know, because I put it in there," he said. "I feel that I have given (the county) a professional sheriff's department."
George has actively pursued upgrades to the sheriff's department throughout his career. His most recent innovation is the purchase of a "live scan" fingerprint computer.
George said the $30,000 machine had been "cost-prohibitive" for his regular budget, but the outside funding, through a grant from the Federal government and the Missouri Highway Patrol -- which doesn't include tax dollars from the taxpayers of Saline County -- transformed the purchase from a dream to reality.
"I did not expect to meet my 2008 goal of the live scan addition to my department this soon, in fact, possibly not even at all," he said. "But needless to say, I am very excited about (this) addition to the jail to enhance the professional operation of the department," he said, when the grant was announced in June 2008.
George expects the new technology to be installed by mid-November 2008.
He has also participated in a "Toys for Tots" program since 1980.
The program, also supported by non-taxpayer funds, is intended to help "less fortunate folks," he said.
"I get calls throughout the year, from parents, grandparents and others for help. (The program) helps me make sure kids get a special gift for birthdays, Christmas or other special occasions. It makes my heart smile. That's what it's all about to me."
The other Democratic candidates, including Assessor Margaret Taylor Pond, Treasurer Sam Jones, Public Administrator Mary A. Toliver and Coroner William W. "Willie" Harlow are all running unopposed. On the Republican side, Southern District Commissioner Dick Hassler and Northern District Commissioner Norvelle "Brownie" Brown are also unopposed.
At the state level, State Rep. Joe Aull, District 26, is unopposed on the Democratic ticket. On the Republican ballot, incumbent Stanley Cox is duking it out with challenger Philip J. Sherman for District 118.
In the state senate, Bill Stouffer, the incumbent, is unopposed on the Republican ballot, while challenger Joe Sadeghi is unopposed on the Democratic ticket.
Incumbent Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton is unopposed for House District 4, but three challengers, Republicans Stanley Plough Jr., Joseph Terrazas and Jeff Parnell are vying for the chance to unseat Skelton in the November elections.
In the statewide elections, things get a little more complicated.
For governor, there are four candidates in the Republican primary -- Scott Long, incumbent state treasurer Sarah Steelman, Kenny Hulshof and Jennie Lee "Jen" Schwartze Sievers. On the Democratic side, incumbent Attorney General Jeremiah W. "Jay" Nixon faces off with Daniel Carroll.
The office of lieutenant governor has nine candidates, including incumbent Peter Kinder, Paul Douglas Sims and Arthur Hodge Sr. on the Republican ballot and six on the Democratic side, including Sam Page, Michael E. Carter, Richard Charles Tolbert, incumbent Saline County Presiding Commissioner Becky Plattner, Mary Williams and C. Lillian Metzger.
There's less competition for the office of secretary of state. Incumbent Robin Carnahan is unopposed on the Democratic ballot; Mitchell "Mitch" Hubbard is unopposed on the Republican ballot.
For the office of state treasurer, the Democrats are fielding Mark Powell, Clint Zweifel, Andria Danine Simckes and Charles B. Wheeler while the Republicans are represented by Brad Lager, running unopposed.
The attorney general's office has five candidate: Chris Koster, Margaret Donnelly, Jeff Harris and Molly Williams on the Democratic ballot and Mike Gibbons running unopposed on the Republican ballot.
The Libertarian party is fielding just three candidates, all running unopposed. They are Andrew W. Finkenstadt for governor, Teddy Fleck for lieutenant governor and Wes Upchurch for secretary of state.
The Constitution party, which is backing Marshall native Gregory Thompson for governor, did not qualify for listing on the primary ballot, but has been certified for inclusion on the November ballot.
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