Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers’ visit last month to Nevada prompts a blunt assessment from Dwight Fish, vice chairman of the Elkhart County Democratic Party.
“It’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” he said. “The sheriff should be doing his job in Elkhart County... He shouldn’t be wearing his uniform supporting a person who doesn’t pay his tax bill, who breaks the law in Nevada.”
Foes of federal government overreach have cheered Rogers’ April 18-20 trip to the ranch of Cliven Bundy in Bunkerville, Nev., northeast of Las Vegas. The rural zone was site of a tense armed showdown last month between U.S. Bureau of Land Management reps who say Bundy, a cattle rancher, owes perhaps $1 million in grazing fees and critics, like Rogers, who thought the feds took things too far.
For some here, though, Rogers’ trip was inappropriate for a sheriff elected in Elkhart County. His focus should be here and his concern should be public safety. That he wore his uniform during the visit, too, was particularly irksome.
Bundy “is a lawbreaker, not a hero, and Republican Rogers should resign from his office for defending that Nevada rancher deadbeat while wearing his Indiana, Elkhart County uniform,” said Charles Mumaw, a Goshen retiree.
Mumaw, a Democrat and Elkhart Township trustee candidate, publicly aired his criticism at an April 29 candidate forum hosted by the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Ron Davis, president of the NAACP branch here, was there, and he said Mumaw’s comments — along with similar criticism aired by a spectator — generated a favorable response.
"There was a lot of head-nodding going on,” said Davis. “They were agreeing with (Mumaw).”
The Nevada trip has fueled talk of finding a Democrat or someone to challenge Rogers, a Republican up for election to his second term in the Nov. 4 general election. Mumaw knows of no Democrats willing to run, though, so the only hope, he thinks, may be in finding an independent candidate.
"We have a lot of very able administrators who could manage that office,” said Mumaw.
Whatever the case, Rogers, alone on the Republican ballot in the May 6 primary, has plenty of supporters.
He first won election in 2010 with strong tea party support. In balloting last week generated the second-highest vote total among all the candidates up for election in Elkhart County, including numerous running unopposed, like Rogers.
At the same time, Democrats have tended to play second fiddle to Republicans in Elkhart County politics.
NO MORE COMMENTS
Rogers said in an email Monday, May 13, that he won’t be making any more public comments on the trip, even in light of the local criticism. But he made statements on his Facebook page shortly after the trip and responded to earlier Elkhart Truth queries about the visit. He also appears in two videos making statements in Nevada, one with Bundy, the other during a press conference featuring Oath Keepers representatives.
He dubbed the trip to Nevada a “peacekeeping mission” in a Facebook post and said it would serve Elkhart County. If the feds try to improperly assert their authority here, Rogers — who has long voiced a strong distaste for federal meddling and overreach — will be prepared.
“The knowledge and experience I gained from this trip is going to serve Elkhart County in the near future when something occurs here,” Rogers wrote. “I was also there on a peacekeeping mission to keep people from getting killed, on my own time!”
Rogers said his main intent was to encourage the local sheriff, Clark County, Nev., Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, to intervene and help mediate a solution between the feds and Bundy, to keep the situation from escalating. Precipitating the showdown last month, federal officials moved ahead with efforts to round up Bundy’s cattle from federal land while Bundy maintained what he said was his right to graze on the land.
The sheriff also pointed out that he used vacation time to go to Nevada and that he didn’t use county funds. Oath Keepers, an organization made up of present and former law enforcement and military officials to defend gun rights, covered the cost of the trip, according to Rogers.
Elkhart County Administrator Tom Byers says Rogers didn’t violate any county rules he knows of, neither in making the trip nor in wearing his uniform. Likewise, the visit didn’t seem to raise any red flags with Elkhart County Commissioner Frank Lucchese, a fellow elected county official and Republican.
"The trip didn’t generate any reaction from his constituents “one way or the other, nothing negative,” said Lucchese. He went on: "He did it on his own time. He’s allowed to express views. It’s America.”
AN EGO TRIP IN NEVADA
Still, the critics don’t back down.
The visit was “an ego trip in Nevada supporting a right-wing political movement,” said Fish, the local Democratic Party official. Many here “have given up on Elkhart because of stunts like that.”
Rogers defends his involvement, citing his oath as sheriff to uphold the U.S. and Indiana constitutions and, thus, to stand up when he thinks the federal government oversteps its authority. He’s ominously noted the Waco, Texas, showdown between the feds and Branch Davidians and the Ruby Ridge, Idaho, confrontation between the feds and Randy Weaver.
But as far as his critics are concerned, the sheriff should stick with running the sheriff’s department, zero in on protecting the public, keep the focus local.
"It wasn’t his place to go out there and support (Bundy),” said Davis.
As Mumaw and Fish see it, the sheriff’s job is an administrative post. It’s not about politics and political movements.
"He’s an administrator,” said Fish. “He should be administering in the sheriff’s department to make it a better department.”