Photo by John F. Russell
Sheriff candidate Garrett Wiggins and several of his supporters celebrate early election returns Tuesday night at the Republican watch party at the Steamboat Smokehouse. At the time, Wiggins held a slight lead over Democratic incumbent Gary Wall. He ultimately won the race.
Updated November 3, 2010 at 3:13 a.m.
Steamboat Springs The most fiercely contested race in Routt County was neck and neck until early this morning, when Republican Garrett Wiggins surged ahead of incumbent Sheriff Gary Wall thanks to strong support from mail-ballot voters.
The mail votes were the last to be tallied by Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland and her election staff. Wiggins clung to a 169-vote lead with more than 4,100 mail ballots still outstanding. But he received 2,477 of those votes, compared with 1,719 for Wall. The result was a 55 percent to 45 percent win for Wiggins, avenging his loss by the same margin to Wall in the 2006 race for the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m glad to hear that; it’s a relief,” Wiggins said when reached by phone this morning. “I’m excited to see I did pull away with the mail-in vote. It goes to show you hard work does pay.”
Wall could not be reached for comment.
The final results came at about 2:30 a.m., after the candidates and their supporters had packed it in for the night. An imaging error forced the Clerk and Recorder’s Office to re-scan several batches of mail ballots.
Wiggins finished with 4,978 votes to Wall’s 4,051. The 9,029 total votes represent a 68 percent turnout from county voters.
The up-and-down returns Tuesday night — Wall led after the early voters were tallied — seemed to mirror the back-and-forth nature of the campaign between Wall and Wiggins, who is commander of the All Crimes Enforcement Team, a drug task force.
Both men have experienced their fair share of controversy in the past four years. For Wall, it was a driving while ability impaired conviction and ongoing battles with the Routt County Board of Commissioners about who had authority over his budget. For Wiggins, it was scandals involving two of the officers he oversaw as part of the All Crimes Enforcement Team.
Neither Wall nor Wiggins was shy about pointing out his opponent’s perceived weaknesses throughout the campaign. They also seemed to agree about their general approach to law enforcement.
During forums and in interviews, both candidates said they prefer the use of warnings instead of tickets for minor infractions and that they would emphasize the assistance deputies can provide versus cracking down on petty offenders.
Wall also said he increased the professionalism of the Sheriff’s Office and reduced turnover from the previous administration.
According to figures from Chris Hensen, of Routt County Human Resources, 44 people left the office from 2007 to 2010, not including Sheriff John Warner, who retired, but including his undersheriff. That’s one more than left the office during Warner’s last four years as sheriff, Hensen said.
Wiggins campaigned that he wanted to increase professionalism in the office and increase the on-site presence of deputies in the county, especially when residents are reporting major crimes.
One of the biggest differences between the campaigns came from supporters: On his website, Wiggins listed support from many of the major figures in law enforcement in the county and region, including Steamboat Springs police Chief JD Hays, 14th Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham, Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta and Hayden police Chief Ray Birch.
Wall posted support from several residents and Steamboat Springs City Council member Meg Bentley.
Wall dismissed questions about the support by saying he didn’t ask other law enforcement members for their endorsement.