By Ginny LaRoe Staff Writer
Hamilton County Sheriff John Cupp faces more opposition this year than in any other election since he took office in 1994, records show.
"I believe the reason the heavy turnout for candidates in that race is Sheriff Cupp's late announcement entering into the race," said Bobby Wood, Hamilton County Republican Party chairman. Sheriff Cupp, a Republican, was the last candidate to qualify for the race, records show. He turned in his qualifying papers on Jan. 17.
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Stuart James said Sheriff Cupp's late announcement and the perception the county's top law enforcement official is getting "lazy on the job" led to a lot of competition for the post.
"They feel Sheriff Cupp has dropped the ball on jail certification, ensuring deputies are paid an appropriate salary" and community outreach, Mr. James said.
The sheriff, 74, defended his leadership, saying he has used funds wisely and has a presence in the community.
"We've got the community outreach," he said. "We have the gun safety, the seat belt clinics, the neighborhood watch, just to mention three."
He said the county is working on easing the jail overcrowding, which led to decertification of the downtown facility earlier this year. The Hamilton County Commission approved an alternative bonding program that would let out some nonviolent offenders if they can't afford their bond.
One professor said it is unusual to have a lot of competition in a race with an incumbent, especially when there is no "clear scandal." But Dr. Lisa Diller, a history professor at Southern Adventist University, said there is an increased concern in the community about law enforcement issues.
"Issues about safety are really something people are thinking about," she said.
In addition to Sheriff Cupp, four people are running for the county's top law enforcement job: Republican Andy Derryberry, 47, independent Dave Alverson, 67, and Democrats Billy Long, 53, and Hank DeArman, 59.
Three other candidates showed an interest in the race but dropped out, saying they didn't want to run against the incumbent. Another potential candidate said he intended to run, but he did not qualify for the race.
Mr. Derryberry, Mr. Long and Mr. Alverson have said they were under the impression Sheriff Cup wouldn't run but have no plans to drop out of the race.
"Everyone was thinking John was going to retire," said Marty VonSchaaf, spokesman for Mr. Long.
All the candidates have law enforcement experience, and both Mr. Derryberry and Mr. Alverson served as chief deputies under Sheriff Cupp.
All the candidates running against Sheriff Cupp have said they would increase community outreach, including school resource officers, drug and alcohol awareness programs and more patrol presence.
Both party chairmen said they look forward to a competitive primary.
Sheriff Cupp said this week this will be his last race. He said he didn't want to "retire just to retire" this year. If he wins re-election, this would be his fourth consecutive term.
Three candidates vied for the job in addition to Sheriff Cupp in 1998 and 2002. Five candidates, including Sheriff Cupp, ran in 1994 when the seat was vacant, Hamilton County Election Commission records show.
Sheriff Cupp and his predecessor, H.Q. Evatt, each served longer than any other sheriff in Hamilton County history, according to records kept on the Sheriff's Office Web site dating back to 1819.
Mr. Evatt served from 1968 to 1974 and again from 1978 to 1994. Most other sheriffs served just two years before terms were changed to four years.
The primary election is May 2, and the general election is Aug. 3.
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