2022 Race for Riverside County Sheriff appears to implode
RIVERSIDE COUNTY — With voting now underway in the June 7 primary, some are literally asking, “What race?” when it comes to the race for Riverside County Sheriff.
Not unlike that frustrating Fourth of July firework, this matchup is a dud.
First-term incumbent Sheriff Chad Bianco is being challenged by Michael J. Lujan, a retired Sheriff’s Captain. He retired from the department in December 2020 after two years of working as a captain and acting chief of police in Lake Elsinore and Wildomar. He announced his candidacy in March, three months before the election, putting himself at a distinct disadvantage in fostering name recognition, gaining support and fundraising.
Bianco announced his candidacy in May 2017 for the 2018 election. He already had name widespread name recognition from having run for the office in 2014. When he announced in May 2017, Bianco already had the support of deputies and managers in the department.
Lujan’s time at the sheriff’s department came to an end in December 2020.
“He was placed on ‘administrative leave’ while we investigated an allegation that he possibly covered up an investigation of an off-duty employee who was involved in an alcohol related traffic collision,” Bianco told Uken Report
Lujan served two years working as a captain and acting chief of police in Lake Elsinore and Wildomar. He now claims he wants to be sheriff to restore integrity and accountability to the office.
Each is vying to lead the department that is responsible for 7,300 square miles which extends over 200 miles in length and approximately 50 miles in width. This immense territory makes Riverside County the fourth largest county in the state of California. The department has more than 4,000 men and women.
Some of Bianco’s opponents, many of them Democrats, hoped this race would be a nailbiter with a Democrat winning to lead the second-largest Sheriff’s Department within the state of California.
For the past four years, Bianco has become a favorite punching bag among some Democrats. During her one-year rotation as mayor of Palm Springs, Christy Holstege used Twitter to call for Bianco’s resignation. She said that his membership with Oath Keepers disqualified him to serve in elected office.
Her plea fell on deaf ears. Bianco obviously did not resign and told Uken Report, “I couldn’t care less what she says.”
In November, the entire Palm Springs City Council sent a letter to the California Attorney General encouraging the consideration of the ACLU, Starting Over Inc., and numerous other regional community organizations’ request for an investigation into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and its leader, Chad Bianco. You may read the entire letter here.
Bianco was also criticized for not participating in the 2021 Pride Parade in Downtown Palm Springs.
Despite all the bluster and bombast, an independent professional public opinion survey of Riverside County voters conducted December 11-13, 2020, revealed that Bianco had one of the highest favorability ratings of all County elected officials. The telephone survey also shows tremendous public support for Bianco’s ignoring the Governor’s mandates and high support for elected officials who support Bianco’s COVID-related actions.
Pollsters were reportedly going into the field last week.
Democrats of the Desert, the largest Democratic Club in the Coachella Valley, strategized ways to unseat Bianco. Turns out, the organization is not allowed to promote or endorse someone who is not a registered Democrat, Stephen Jaffe, president of the political organization, told Uken Report.
“Clearly we want him replaced,” Jaffe told Uken Report. “We don’t think he’s done a good job. Personally, I’m voting for Michael Lujan. I don’t know a lot about him, but he’s not Bianco.”
Dan Ball, the Emmy Award-winning host of Real America & Hungry Heroes on the One America News Network, sees Bianco in a different light.
“Sheriff Chad Bianco is not only the best Sheriff that Riverside County has ever seen, but he’s also one of the top sheriffs in the country,” Ball told Uken Report. “Why, because he believes in law and order and the rule of law. He also fully believes in protecting every citizen’s constitutional rights. Less government control and more self-responsibility. In addition, he’s a staunch advocate for the second amendment.
“He’s a cop’s cop, not a politician,” Ball continued. “That’s why he has one of the highest approval ratings from the deputies that serve under him. I firmly believe that Chad lives out the phrase to protect and serve the people…and not a political party or special interest group. This is what makes him a great Sheriff, a great leader and a patriot.”
Uken Report posed a series of questions to Bianco. The questions and his responses follow.
Uken Report (UR): How would you characterize this race for sheriff?
Sheriff Bianco: It feels more like a bump in the road.
UR: It seems to be landing with a big thud. Would you agree with that? Why do you think that is?
Sheriff Bianco: That is a nice way to put it. I believe because most people are surprised that anyone else is running. The department is in a good place, and I have broad support from our community.
UR: Did you expect this? Why or why not?
Sheriff Bianco: Up until the last day of filing it appeared I would be running unopposed. Without substantial backing and financial support, I knew it would be nearly impossible to successfully campaign in a county as large as ours. Once I heard his platform, I knew he would not garner much steam.
UR: How does it differ from your race in 2018?
Sheriff Bianco: This is a completely different race than 2018. I ran against an incumbent sheriff who was personally responsible for a lot of our issues at the time. All relationships were either damaged or broken and morale within the department was at an all-time low. I had substantial backing from all law enforcement in the county and the resources to campaign. My message was able to reach the majority of voters that knew it was time for a change. Compare that to today, I have a very good working relationship with all county department heads, the county executive office, the board of supervisors, and every municipal Chief of Police. Having the overwhelming internal support from all of our employees is something that would be hard for anyone to overcome. The overwhelming majority of our residents also believe the Sheriff’s Department is in a good place and they believe I am doing a good job.
UR: As of today, May 11, how much would you say you’ve spent on this campaign? (We know there is lag time in spending reports, so what is currently public might not be the most up to date.)
Sheriff Bianco: I’m not exactly sure what the to date total is, but I will probably spend about $70,000.00 on this campaign.
UR: How does that compare to 2018 for the same period?
Sheriff Bianco: I think we spent about $700,000 on the primary and another $500,000 going onto the general. We spent nearly $1.3 million on the last campaign.
UR: By any measure, you have had a controversial first term. Whether it was your decisions regarding masks, COVID-19 immunizations, CCW permits, or your one-year membership in Oath Keepers, you’ve ignited firestorms. Why do you think that is?
Sheriff Bianco: When decisions must be made it is impossible to please everyone. Early on in my term I refused demands from pro-inmate groups and the ACLU when it came to releasing inmates because of covid. When I did that, I became the enemy of a very small but vocal group with “far left,” anti-law enforcement support. Once that happened, those groups spread so much misinformation and outright lies, to some it became reality. My oppositions base is completely political, Democrat vs. Republican. I have a broad non-political support base of Riverside County residents because all of my decisions are based on law enforcement and public safety. That is exactly how it should be. I try and base my decisions on reason and common sense which is why I believe I have such widespread support.
UR: Is there any decision in the past four years that you would have made differently if you had known then what you know now? If so, what decision and why? If not, why not?
Sheriff Bianco: I do not believe I would do anything different. The Sheriff’s Department is in the best position we have been for decades. We are emerging as a leader in the law enforcement profession on how to do things correctly.
UR: We know you’ve been asked this many times in many different ways but let us try once more. Why did you join Oath Keepers? What did you think it was when you first joined? Do you think you were misled as to what the group was or was not?
Sheriff Bianco: The Oath Keepers membership is a complete non-issue, and I will not participate in making it one. I think quite a few people are being misled as to what the group was or was not. The group was made up of current and former law enforcement and military of all ages, genders, nationalities, and religions who had sworn and oath to protect our Constitution. I am a firm believer in our history and the importance of our Constitution to our freedoms and the future of our country. It is quite ironic to me the people wanting to brand me as something I am not, because of the actions of a few, are the same ones who are very quick to accuse others of doing that same thing.
UR: Why did you leave after one year?
Sheriff Bianco: I do not remember finding anything worth renewing a membership.
UR: You told us once that people don’t really know you. What did you mean by that and what would you like them to know?
Sheriff Bianco: I think I actually said that “people who don’t like me” don’t really know me. They have based their opinion on an emotional response to what they read or what they were told, and it has nothing to do with me or who I am. Every decision I make is based on what would be best for law enforcement and the residents of Riverside County. Not one decision I have ever made was based on politics, and I never will consider politics when deciding on matters of public safety. I am a very humble, non-confrontational person who gets along with everyone. I am not judgmental and would give the shirt off my back to help anyone.
UR: What do you think has been your single biggest accomplishment in your first term?
Sheriff Bianco: The complete 180 our department has made from the day I took over. Everything about the Sheriff’s Department has changed for the better. With that, law enforcement has changed for the better and our residents reap the benefits. Are we perfect? Of course not. But we are doing everything we can to reach that goal.
UR: Did you make any campaign promises in 2018 that you did not keep? For example, you promised to speed up the opening and staffing of the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio.
Sheriff Bianco: I was able to open one floor of the jail, twenty five percent of total capacity, without receiving money and support from our Board of Supervisors. We were able to do that with forced overtime and eventually cost savings from elsewhere in the department. We are at the point the Board of Supervisors are going to have to make a substantial increase to our budget to fully open the jail. Every campaign promise I made I have kept.
UR: The Palm Springs City Council sent a letter to the Attorney General to “strongly encourage” its consideration of the ACLU, Starting Over Inc., and numerous other regional community organizations’ request for an investigation into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and you. The letter states, “As Palm Springs residents and elected officials, we have observed and experienced the Department’s patterns of violence toward and disregard for the wellbeing of our communities, both in our communities and inside of our jail system.” What do you think of that? Do you know to what they are referring? Have you heard anything about a possible investigation?
Sheriff Bianco: The quote in the letter is a flat out lie and whoever is responsible for that letter has no business being in public service. The council members who blindly signed on to that letter should be completely embarrassed for failing their constituents. The letter from the ACLU was nothing more than a political hit piece by the far left. Its timing and content were politically motivated with the intent of discrediting me leading up to an election. There is NO investigation, and there will not be an investigation, because the allegations were completely made up by the ACLU. The letter did exactly what they intended. They garnered media attention then used that to spread the misinformation. The fact of the matter is that our jail system is one of the safest in the country as it relates to covid and the safety of inmates. The vast majority of our residents can see the ACLU’s letter for exactly what it is.
UR: We’re sure it won’t come as a surprise to you to hear that you have been described by some as “arrogant, brash, a bully, like Trump,” and more. Do you agree? Does that hurt?
Sheriff Bianco: It certainly doesn’t hurt. I might be concerned if it actually came from someone who knows me. The “surprise” is that anyone with that opinion of me has probably never met me and has no idea who I am as a person. I would be willing to bet they could not specifically tell you why they think that unless it was something they read or were told. The fact of my professional life is that I am competent and extremely confident in my ability and the functions of our department. I also know my faults and limitations. Anyone who accuses me of being anything “like Trump” is showing they are far too ingrained in identity politics to separate themselves long enough to engage in a real discussion of public safety. Public safety, and my position, has no place for politics. My job is to lead our department in a direction that provides the best law enforcement possible for our residents to keep us safe in our homes, schools and businesses.
- Stephen Jaffe: Facebook
- Dan Ball: Dan Ball
- Sheriff Chad Bianco: Sheriff Chad Bianco