One day after Routt County Sheriff John Warner announced he would not be running for sheriff, Routt County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ray Birch said he was.
"Over the last three or four years, I have had several people ask me why I don't run for sheriff, considering my background," Birch said. "But I knew I would never run against (Warner). I respect him. He is a great man of integrity and honesty. I also had no idea he wasn't planning on running until a few weeks ago. When he told me that, it opened my door."
Birch announced his intention to run Wednesday during the monthly Routt County Republicans luncheon. He filed an affidavit with County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland shortly after he made the announcement.
Birch was hired at the Sheriff's Office two months ago as a sergeant. Before that, he was the chief investigator for the 14th Judicial District, investigating major crimes -- including homicides -- in Routt, Grand and Moffat counties.
Birch is a former U.S. Marine and is active in the U.S. Air Force reserves. Birch re-enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after Sept. 11, 2001, and he was deployed two months after that to Iraq. A year after returning home, Birch was sent to Baghdad, where he stayed until August 2005.
Upon his return, Birch decided it was time to get back into law enforcement and thought a job at the Sheriff's Office was where he needed to be.
"I wanted to have as much of an impact on my county as I could. Coming to the (RCSO) was the natural evolution of my career," he said.
Birch moved to Routt County with his wife and children in 2000, after remembering the Yampa Valley from a trip in 1993.
Before moving to Hayden, Birch was working in Pomona, Calif., as a homicide investigator, a position he held for more than a decade. He also worked as a patrol field training officer, a shift supervisor and a detective. Birch estimated he has been in law enforcement 27 years, not including the years he served with the military police.
Birch thinks his military and police careers make him the ideal candidate for Routt County sheriff.
"There's no doubt in my mind that I am the most qualified candidate for sheriff," he said. Birch and Steamboat Springs police officer Dwight Murphy -- a Republican -- are the only people to have announced their candidacies. Murphy and Birch will face each other in August's primary election, an event which Birch said he was looking forward to.
"Cops are cops," Birch said about speaking with Murphy, who also attended Wednesday's luncheon. "You have a bond. You have a respect for your other officers. I shook his hand, smiled and said, 'Hey, all the best and good luck.' He smiled at me and said, 'All the best to you,'" Birch said. "I'm all about some competition. I'm sure there will be some debates."
Murphy could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Birch, 48, sees this candidacy as the end of his law enforcement career, though he said he never plans to leave Routt County, even if he is deployed again.
"I'll always come back," he said.
Birch said he decided to run because he shares the concerns of Routt County residents.
"I have the same concerns just as everybody else," he said.
Those issues include a growing drug abuse problem in the county and high turnover rates of employees at the Sheriff's Office.
"We have 10 road deputies that patrol over 2,200 square miles of this county 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "If we lose three or four of those guys, we've lost a third of our force. Then the other deputies have to work overtime, they have to cancel their vacations with their families. These men are dedicated, and they do it, but it does affect morale," he said.
Birch said he would work to hire and retain qualified deputies, as well as provide resources and ongoing training.
"My goal is to train highly skilled and motivated men and women to serve Routt County -- people who see their jobs as careers," he said.
Birch said he is beginning to get to know community members in preparation for the spring caucus and general assembly.
"I have a lot of friends in this county," he said. "I am working hard to get the word out, and I want people to know I will answer their questions.
"I am perfectly willing to spend as much time as I need to help people get to know who I am," he said.
Warner said Wednesday night he no comment about Birch's announcement.
-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234
or e-mail email@example.com