"Political"(?) Sheriffs...

As I’ve always understood it, it’s the job of the Sheriff’s department to “protect and serve” with a county-wide jurisdiction rather (as opposed to, e.g., city police or state troopers). In other words, I’ve always just thought of them as County Cops (a signficiant thing, if you live in a large Texas county that is all county with two or three “dots” called towns).

That said… Why do we vote for Sheriff? We don’t vote for Chief of Police (hired by the city council) or head of the DPS (presumably appointed by the Gov.). And why does the Sheriff have a political affilication? If their job is to enforce laws, serve warrants, etc., why should it matter if the Sheriff is a democrat, republican, or something else? Is this just a Texas thing or do all state’s counties (or parishes or whatevers) have elected, politicized sheriffs?

I’ve wondered the same thing. Even worse, here we elect the county coroner! How the hell did that get to be an elected office?

“I know more about dead people than that Democrat over there!”


The election of sheriffs varies from state to state. In California, they are elected, but it is a nonpartisan job. Los Angeles elected a new sheriff in 1998 and it was the first contested election for sheriff ever. The challenger won, mainly because the incumbent died during his campaign (he might have lost anyway.)

Some places elect coroners, clerks, assessors, and other offices. It just depends upon what people wanted. In the rural county, where my family came from (Clinton County, Illinois), there were a whole bunch of County offices that were subject to election. Since you were prohibited from running for reelection, the guys who held the jobs just rotated around to new ones. My great uncle, a veterinarian, was the coroner, as well as the treasurer, and the clerk, etc.

Most of this is left over from the reforms of the Progressive Era in the first 10-15 years of the 20th Century. Those reforms made up for the political ills of the late 19th century. By now, special interests have learned to tweak “reforms” to their own advantage.

David: I thought you lived in Chicago. There, Coroner is a very important office in the political machine, in that it is his responsibility to find new voters!

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Here in Pittsburgh, we vote for everything. Next month, we are voting for the county controller, the DA, the trasurer, the register of wills, the prothonotary (whatever the hell that is; some kind of clerk, I believe), the recorder of deeds and the clerk of courts. Furthermore, except for the controller and the DA, there is only one candidate running for these positions!

There has been talk of making at least some of these positions appointments (on the grounds that no one in Pittsburgh really cares who registers their wills, so long as it gets done). It hasn’t happened yet.

(This is in addition to the usual county executive, city council, judges, etc. I really need to do my homework before the election.)

Never attribute to malice anything that can be attributed to stupidity.
– Unknown

The coroner is historically the person who assures that the King’s Peace has not been violated in the matter of a death. He was a royal appointee, hence the name. He is often assisted by a medical person known as the Coronor’s Physician.

Of course, in the colonies and in particular just after the revolution, the king’s appointee got replaced by an elected official, and of course kept the traditional name for the job. As time went on, the idea of having a worthy supporter of the local political boss name a doctor to do the actual work grated on reformers, and the coroner proper was replaced by the coroner’s physician, who became the coroner.

Counties in Texas are considered to be purely administrative in nature; note that you don’t vote for a county mayor, or whatever it might be called. The Commissioner’s court handles road and bridge construction and maintenance and the like, but except for them, legislative affairs are handled at the state level.

That said, would you really want the Texas State Legislature to appoint your sheriff? :0

More than you wanted to know, Cat:

From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
What the job actually entails in your county, I have no clue.


Neither does anyone else, andros. Thanks for the info, though. I never thought of looking in the dictionary; I assumed that it was some kind of weird made-up word invented by the county government.

Never attribute to malice anything that can be attributed to stupidity.
– Unknown

In Fairfax, the campaign signs for sheriff have appeared with the incumbent’s name for the umpteenth time. They say:

Carl Peed for Sheriff

I always think: that was nice of him, but I really think the sheriff should pee for himself.

About coroners–the county that I lived in 20 years ago elected a dead man for coroner.

Between the time of the primary and the general election, he died–and no one else filed.

His name was left on the ballot for the general, so he won.

Yeahbut… why should (does?) it matter if the Sheriff (or, for that matter, the Coroner or county clerk) is a Democrat or Republican? It’s not like the democrat candidate for sheriff pledges more security at abortion clinics while the GOP candidate vows to set up stings to catch welfare cheats. Likewise, what would a party-affiliated county clerk possibly pledge? Why the affiliation at all if the job is supposed to be (or is it?) non-political?

Where I live, we vote for the water clerk. I have absolutely no idea what this job entails, or how to tell if my current water clerk is doing a good job. Last election, I just checked off all of the incumbents for the clerks.

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

David does not live in Chicago. David lives out where Jesus lost His sandals.

I do not disagree with the idea that party affiliation is irrelevant to how a lot of county jobs are performed. I will simply assert that (township) school board seats are non-political by law here. Ha. The two parties illegally promote their party hacks for the positions and the sheep, I mean people, vote for their parties’ selections. And nobody does nuttin’ about it. Saying a position is unpolitical doesn’t make it so, as the politicans really, really want it all to be political.

States where minor offices are elected at a party level are that way, usually because the parties in the states like it that way. It’s easier to control the candidates.
Today’s prothonotary could be tomorrow’s congressional representative.