ELKHART — Norman Anderson shakes his head at Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers’ decision last April to wear his uniform when visiting the site of a charged political showdown in Nevada.
"You’re on vacation, then be on vacation,” he said.
But he doesn’t stop with criticism. Rogers’ controversial visit to the Bunkerville, Nev., ranch of Cliven Bundy, though made on the sheriff’s own time with no county funds, riled Anderson so much, that he’s decided to challenge the incumbent for his post.
Elkhart County Democratic Party Chairwoman Shari Mellin formally tabbed Anderson to represent the party in the November election, filing the necessary paperwork Monday, June 23. Anderson — a custodian at Bristol Elementary School who’s never before run for public office — said Tuesday, June 24, that he’ll be “pounding the streets” to get the word out about his candidacy.
"Just the poor quality performance of the current sheriff,” said Anderson, citing the spur to get in the race. He alluded to other things, without pinpointing them, but said the decision by Rogers, a Republican, to wear the uniform in Nevada was “almost like the last straw.”
That said, Rogers, an outspoken gun rights proponent and critic of federal government meddling, has a solid base of support here. Even Mellin recognizes Anderson likely faces a tough political fight.
"It’ll certainly be an uphill battle, that’s for sure,” she said.
Rogers’ April 18-20 visit to Nevada — which generated a strong response locally, pro and con — served as a show of support, of sorts, for critics of federal government overreach who had gathered there to back Bundy. U.S. Bureau of Land Management reps say Bundy, a cattle rancher, owes perhaps $1 million in fees for letting his cattle graze on federal property. They had taken moves to remove his cattle from federal land over the matter.
Critics had blasted the federal action as heavy-handed and Rogers, though on personal time, wore his uniform to at least two media events in Nevada organized by the foes. The sheriff and County Administrator Tom Byers have both said he broke no county rules in wearing his sheriff’s department garb.
INCREASING DEPUTIES’ WAGES
Rogers, seeking his second term, touted his years of law enforcement work when asked Tuesday to respond to Anderson’s decision to run. The Republican ran unopposed in the GOP primary last May.
“My over 30 years of law enforcement experience including my commitment to service and protection of civil liberties for all walks of life speak for themselves. And I believe that the people will agree with that come Election Day,” Rogers said in an email.
Meanwhile, Anderson, 57, said the focus of the sheriff’s department should be local, in contrast to Rogers’ strong anti-federal meddling stance, an issue of particular interest for the incumbent. “There’s a lot more here in Elkhart County that needs to be handled and I think they need to be handled first,” he said.
Increasing wages of sheriff’s department deputies is a key issue, said Anderson, a Ball State University graduate who’s worked with Elkhart Community Schools since 2002. He also touted the importance of making the department more ethnically diverse.
The sheriff administers the sheriff’s department and the county jail and Anderson said his ability to work with people will serve him in that aspect. His stint working as a county probation officer will also help.
"I think he’s got good leadership qualities,” said Mellin. “He’s a people person. I think he would do well as an administrator.”
Anderson, from Elkhart, is married to Zanzer Anderson, who’s active in the Elkhart County Democratic Party. She served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2012, when President Obama was nominated to run for a second term.