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Sheriff's race has been hard fought

As the race for Hubbard County Sheriff enters its final month, both candidates admit to some mix of both fatigue and euphoria.

It has been a hard fought, expensive campaign for both Frank Homer, the temporary incumbent, and Sgt. Cory Aukes.

Aukes got a head start, blanketing the county with signs even before the primaries. And he distinguished himself by posting bright yellow and black ads, not the typical red, white and blue the remainder of the politicians posted.

Whether color or timing matters is up to the electorate.

There is little disagreement that it has split the department's loyalties and it's no secret that staff members are in an unenviable position. What is unclear is whether the morale problems are as serious as Aukes maintains.

There have been some tensions that escalated this past summer at a community outing hosted by the Sheriff's Department that seemed to turn the tide of the race.

Aukes family members showed up at Night to Unite in full campaign regalia and were asked to leave by Chief deputy Jerry Tatro.

He told them it wasn't a night to campaign.

Homer had previously worked the crowd and asked his supporters to remove their campaign buttons, and for one man to remove his ball cap supporting the sheriff.

Aukes' family complained, sparking an internal investigation. That investigation was assigned to Itasca County. It is looking into whether internal policies were violated.

But Aukes himself couches the argument in terms of free speech and civil rights issues. He maintains his family members were the victims of the department trying to violate their right to speak out.

Some attending that evening, in which the department showcases its services, questioned whether it was in poor taste for the Aukes group to try to turn the event into a campaign rally.

Others thought Tatro could have used more tact in asking the family to leave and suggest he may have broken the law.

As issues go, it probably highlights the morale problems inherent in the department these days. But it may not answer the fundamental question of what is on the electorate's mind: Which candidate will make our streets safer?

Homer acknowledges it is stressful working in law enforcement during economic times that find many underemployed or out of work. People are drinking too much, arguing too much.

Deputies work nights, weekends, holidays, birthdays, revolving shifts.

Most of their contact with the public is negative.

Homer said it takes a toll.

"On top of all that, throw in an interdepartmental election and your morale gets even lower," Homer admitted.

He said it sometimes hurts knowing younger officers he gave opportunities to have backed Aukes.

But he said he also remembers his early deputy days at Cass County where you're torn about which horse to back and can be "easily led."

And he knows what it does to a career to back the wrong guy. He said he learned that early on in his own career.

He has been in the administration of Hubbard County nearly six years as chief deputy and interim sheriff.

Aukes said morale will only improve by a changing of the guard, and he's supremely confident in his ability to lead the younger generation of officers.

"I'm the future of his department," he has said repeatedly.

Aukes isn't bothered by his lack of administrative experience. "I've been a supervisor five years," he repeats. He thinks he and his supporters will be able to assume the reins immediately.

Under state law, Homer could reappoint his own position to one of "non-administrative" work such as a road deputy. He said he hasn't given it much thought.

The two men's families have been equally involved in the grueling campaign, knocking on doors, putting up posters, attending lake association meetings, senior citizens centers, fundraising dinners, pubic forums, hosting meet-and-greets and booths at the county fair and attending small town parades.

Each man has no idea how much his campaign has spent. Homer's finances have primarily come from his own pocket, he said, with help from supporters.

Aukes said his campaign has primarily been funded by his supporters, assisted by his personal finances.

The race seems evenly divided, but the end of the story won't be known until Nov. 2. County board members are staying out of the fray.

"It could be construed as an unfair campaign practice" to back one candidate or the other, Dist. 3 commissioner Greg Larson said. "How do I tell people I'm campaigning as Greg Larson, private citizen and not Greg Larson, commissioner?"

Both sheriff's candidates have considered the possibility of losing, but not much.

Each wants to win badly.

And if that is the unit of measurement, the outcome is a dead heat.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364