What a difference 20 years can make. What a difference four months can make, for that matter.
Rick Jones is back knocking doors this week in his bid to return to public service as the Eaton County sheriff, but the political atmosphere couldn’t be more different than it was when he made his first political run in 2000. Or when he announced he’d challenge incumbent Tom Reich in May 2019.
The coronavirus pandemic is changing the reaction Jones and other politicians are receiving.
“A lot of people don’t want to open their doors,” said Jones before embarking on another round of walking on a 90-degree afternoon. “I leave literature, but I don’t want to force anyone to open the door. I believe I’ve built up a lot of trust with the people over the years. They know me.”
After his one term as sheriff, Jones served six years as a state representative and eight years as state senator. The populist Republican’s tenure was marked by the prolific number of his bills that were signed into law and his public accessibility.
Jones has a Republican primary against private attorney G. Michael Hocking, who represented Reich in a 2016 divorce. Hocking previously served as an Eaton circuit judge in the 1990s, but he was voted out of office in 1996 after a controversial term marked by tough sentences and unorthodox courtroom mannerisms that earned him some Judicial Tenure Commission attention.
Hocking previously served as Eaton County prosecutor, earning the nickname “cowboy,” according to the Lansing State Journal.
On the Democratic side, incumbent Tom Reich has no primary opposition after former candidate Joe Jager dropped out amid the hubbub caused by his “Eaton County Cannot Afford A Third Reich Term!” mailer.
Outside of the unique logistical challenges presented by COVID-19, the focus of Jones’ campaign has shifted because of the recent attention paid to the death of George Floyd and how police treat Blacks, in general.
How wayward deputies treat the public was always going to a focus of his campaign, but the Floyd death put the issue under a sharper focus. Jones decried how a former Eaton County deputy should have faced charges for assault. Instead, the deputy was allowed to resign. He was picked up by another sheriff’s office and allegedly committed additional assaults, Jones said.
The 2015 death of Deven Guilford at the hands of an Eaton County sheriff remains a sore spot for some in community, as well.
One of Jones’ fliers focused on how an Eaton County deputy allegedly harassed a Black military veteran who apparently was doing nothing but jogging around his neighborhood. Jones’ message: “People will not be treated differently” based on race, religion, LGBTQ status, or any other demographical factor if he’s elected to another term.
Jones said he’s vowed to push deescalation and racial bias training as sheriff, as well. He told the Eaton County Board of Commissioners he is willing to work for $70,000 less than the incumbent, who is paid $103,000 a year, so the money can go toward putting another deputy on the roads.
Jones said the public does not believe police services should be defunded, but they do want more accountability for law enforcement, who aren’t living up to their oath to protect and serve.
The flier vowing to create a new atmosphere in the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office received pushback from some resident, to which Jones said deftly, “That’s OK. I don’t need the racist vote.”