“Tyranny” and “liberty” were repeated numerous times before Michael Steele took the podium Monday to address the Tea Party’s Four Corners 9/12 Project.
Steele, a write-in candidate for Montezuma County sheriff, fielded more than a dozen questions from the self-proclaimed patriots, including why he opted for such a curious campaign strategy. Steele told the more than three dozen in attendance that he simply missed the filing deadline to enter the race as an independent candidate.
“I was forced to run as a write-in,” he said. “This is the only way that I could do it.”
One man drilled Steele on a question about enforcing unconstitutional laws.
Another asked if the sheriff’s authority supersedes that of federal agents, and one wanted to know what Steele would do to reclaim road access to federally controlled public lands.
“If you’re asking if I would get into a gunbattle with other citizens trying to do their jobs, then probably no,” he said.
In addition to questions about perceived federal overreach, Steele was also asked why he wanted to be the next sheriff.
He cited three main goals for the agency: increasing professionalism and kindness, restoring fiscal responsibility, and correcting personnel issues.
Steele provided specific measures he’d take to bridge what he called a “clear divide” between the now “paramilitary” style of the sheriff’s office and the greater community, saying that deputies would neither tuck their pants inside boots nor wear reflective sunglasses.
“Intimidation is not necessary in a rural area,” said Steele.
Instead, deputies would be required to take an active role with a civic organization of their choice, he said. Steele said he’d also institute a reserve deputy program and establish a citizen review board.
“The sheriff’s office belongs to you,” he said. “It’s not mine.”
Steele was also questioned about his background, specifically his involvement with a bail bond scheme in California’s San Bernardino County.
According to California Superior Court records, Steele was charged more than a decade ago with felony counts of unlawful solicitation of bail and conspiracy.
He later pleaded guilty to a lone misdemeanor charge, court records reveal.
Steele said Monday that he got “wrapped up” in the case after joining a bail bond company that was involved with “underhanded stuff.” He said that he simply followed company policy by answering inmate telephone calls.
“The investigation was ongoing for two years before I arrived,” said Steele.
He added that while investigators determined the company was profiting financially, he maintained that his actions of answering telephone calls were not unlawful.
“The misdemeanor was ultimately dismissed,” he said.
The final question posed, “Why should we vote for you?”
With more than two decades of law-enforcement experience, Steele said it was his 19 years as a business owner that separated his administrative expertise over GOP candidate Steve Nowlin.
“The sheriff is not a street cop job,” said Steele. “It’s an administrative position in charge of a wide range of tasks from personnel to budgets.”
Steele then delivered his first campaign promise if elected.
“Within 12 to 18 months, you will see a change that you can be proud of,” he vowed.
As a write-in candidate, Steele’s name will not appear on the general election ballot in November.
Instead, voters would need to fill in the bubble and pen his name on the line, Steele said.
“It’s simple,” he said. “It’s easy.”
Four Corners 9/12 Project officials said Nowlin declined an invitation to attend Monday’s campaign meeting. Nowlin defeated incumbent Sheriff Dennis Spruell earlier this year during the Republican primary.