You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Activists aiming to oust Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, who was a member of the Oath Keepers, in 2022 election

The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) logo The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 10/9/2021 Tom Coulter, Palm Springs Desert Sun
Chad Bianco looking at the camera: Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco talks about the 2017 missing persons investigation involving victims Jonathan Reynoso and Audrey Moran during a press conference in Palm Desert, June 30, 2020. © Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco talks about the 2017 missing persons investigation involving victims Jonathan Reynoso and Audrey Moran during a press conference in Palm Desert, June 30, 2020.

With about eight months left until California’s next primary election, local activists are already coordinating efforts to oust Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco — but who will run against him remains an open question.

Based in Palm Springs, the Riverside Alliance for Safety and Accountability formed this summer in response to what its organizers view as mismanagement of the sheriff’s department by Bianco, who was first elected to the top position in 2018.

The group’s opposition to Bianco boils down to a few issues. Most recently, RASA organizers have been hammering Bianco after media outlets, including The Desert Sun, unveiled his year-long membership in 2014 with the Oath Keepers, a far-right, anti-government militia organization.

The revelation of Bianco’s past ties to the group, which prompted some elected officials in the Coachella Valley to call for his resignation, also have generated more interest in RASA among county residents, group co-chair Joy Silver said.  

"In a way, I think it's a good thing, because sometimes there's subterfuge on who the candidate is and what they're really going to do, but I don't think there's any subterfuge here with Chad Bianco,” Silver said. “You know what you're getting, and if you don't want that, you have to go forward with someone else.”

More: Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco paid for year-long membership with Oath Keepers in 2014

More: Sheriff Bianco defends his past Oath Keeper membership as some call for his resignation

RASA’s organizers also have been critical of the sheriff’s leadership amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Bianco announced that he would not enforce any theoretical vaccine mandates for his department's employees, part of a general approach that RASA co-chair Phil Drucker argued is “completely and utterly untenable.”

“The bottom line is this is clearly within his purview … there is a direct line of authority from Gavin Newson to the attorney general, who oversees all of the sheriffs, both of whom quite frankly need to step forward and have a little chat with Sheriff Bianco,” Drucker said.

“The last time I looked, he was not Dr. Bianco, although he seems to wear quite a few different hats, depending on what day it happens to be,” he added.

RASA, which runs its social media pages and website under the banner “Bianco Must Go,” also has criticized the department's overall operations, pointing to examples such as a recent federal complaint from the ACLU alleging the sheriff’s department misused pandemic relief funds.

While headquartered in Palm Springs, RASA organizers include some from across Riverside County, and they are actively fundraising after registering as a political action committee with the California Secretary of State’s office.

“Every dollar raised will go towards defeating Chad, and having elected law enforcement who is a dedicated public servant, not a self-serving tyrant,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

RASA had raised about $6,600 as of June 30, according to campaign finance records, though Silver said that their fundraising has ramped up recently — and not just from high-dollar donors.

“Some people will go for $5, some people will give $500, and some people will give $1,000,” Silver said. “It's interesting that the array of small donors is quite large … because small donors usually are an indicator of voters.”

Activists still seeking ideal candidate

It could still be a few months until a challenger emerges publicly — Silver said it may not be until the filing period begins in mid-February.

But the vetting process is well underway, with Democratic organizations in Riverside County actively recruiting potential candidates to run against Bianco.

Elle Kurpiewski, political director of the Democratic Headquarters of the Desert in Cathedral City, confirmed that she is part of a working group — operating separately from RASA — that has begun identifying potential candidates, but said they’re “not there yet” on a preferred individual.

Whoever the challenger is, they will have to meet the standards to run for sheriff in California, as state law requires that any sheriff candidate either have either certification with the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training or a certain amount of law enforcement experience. 

“We’re just looking right now at people who might be approachable to make a run against (Bianco), but no, we do not have anyone specific in mind,” Kurpiewski said. “We’re definitely looking for a strong candidate.”

Echoing a criticism made by RASA organizers, Kurpiewski noted that Bianco recently endorsed Republican candidate Larry Elder in California’s recall election on his professional Facebook page, which has more than 32,000 followers.

“I believe the sheriff’s department, like the police department, should be nonpartisan, but consistently, Chad Bianco has made it very clear that he is a very conservative Republican,” Kurpiewski said. “That’s fine in your personal life, but to endorse a candidate as the sheriff of Riverside County is just wrong.”

Bianco did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but the first-term sheriff has an active campaign site highlighting why he should be reelected in 2022.

In a bulleted list, Bianco states that he balanced the department’s budget, “stood up to the politicians in Sacramento who tried to release violent prisoners early,” and “worked to bridge the trust between the Sheriff’s Department and the community.”

“My work as Sheriff isn’t finished, our department is facing new challenges because of mandates from Sacramento that are leading to a dramatic increase in crime,” Bianco said on the site’s homepage. “I’m asking for your support again because we still have a lot of work to do to keep our county as safe as possible.”

Riverside Sheriffs’ Association donates to Bianco, other law enforcement officials

Anyone looking to defeat Bianco will have to contend with the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, the union representing over 3,500 members from the sheriff's department, the coroner's office, the District Attorney's office, and the county's probation department.

The union has been actively engaged in politics in recent years, donating roughly $1 million to local candidates and statewide initiatives in the 2018 election cycle. More than half of that — $610,000 — went to Bianco, who successfully ran against incumbent Sheriff Stan Sniff in 2018.

The deputies’ union has already seen substantial gains since Bianco took office. In 2019, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved pay increases for union members ranging from 10% to 20%, salary hikes that came at a $145 million cost over five years. 

The union's PAC is poised to continue supporting Bianco in the 2022 election, already donating $17,500 to the sheriff's campaign in July, according to campaign finance records. As of June 30, Bianco reported a balance of roughly $481,000 in his campaign account.

The Riverside Sheriffs' Association also recently added a new member to its leadership: Dave Brown, a former chief of the Hemet Police Department who ran against Bianco for the sheriff position in 2018.

Brown, who finished with nearly 20% of the vote in the 2018 primary, was announced as the union’s executive director in September.

The role will require Brown, who did not respond to requests for an interview, to “work closely with the president and other elected officers to advance the goals and objectives of the association,” according to a press release.

As in 2018, the union's political activity has extended into other county and statewide races. This year, the union’s PAC has already contributed more than $15,000 each to the campaigns of Riverside County Supervisors V. Manuel Perez and Karen Spiegel, both of whom are up for reelection next year.

The deputies' union also has contributed to the campaigns of prosecutors running for office, including incumbent Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin and Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who is running as an independent to be California’s attorney general.

The union’s largest contribution so far this year — $50,000 — has gone to Ed Delgado, an assistant Riverside County sheriff running for Moreno Valley City Council. The union has been actively supporting Delgado’s campaign on its social media pages.

Bianco is also likely to receive financial backing from other political groups in Riverside County. Joe Miedecke, president of the East Valley Republican Women Federated, said she and her group's members will continue to back Bianco, and they are ready to fundraise for him "if needed."

"He has done nothing but be a great sheriff to the people and take care of the things he needs to take care of," Miedecke said. "The people that are trying to (oust Bianco) are just people that want to get rid of any authority that has anything to do with Republicans. And we're sick and tired of it."

Miedecke also defended Bianco's past membership with the Oath Keepers, noting his involvement with the group was nearly a decade ago. 

"That group might not have been anything like it is in today's world, because today's world is completely different that it was in 2014," Miedecke said. "So, I stand behind the sheriff, and so does my group."

Activists hope to win over former Bianco supporters

While prospective candidates can’t file to run for sheriff until early next year, RASA organizers are optimistic that many voters will be swayed to support whoever emerges as the main challenger to Bianco.

Drucker acknowledges that he voted for Bianco in 2018, thinking that the department needed a change in leadership. But Drucker has come to regret his vote, a feeling that he says many voters have expressed in conversations with him.

“We feel very betrayed. We feel that (Bianco) lied to us basically to get into office,” Drucker said. “Just like in Los Angeles (County) with the same problem — a guy comes in, runs as a progressive, says he’s not going to do all that MAGA-type stuff, and then what does he do? Turns right around and does it. So, we have very similar problems right now.”

Drucker said the group’s success will ultimately be determined by two things: adequate funding and the proper candidate.

“It's going to be very hard to remove (Bianco), but I do believe it can be done,” Drucker said. “I think he’s vulnerable.”

Tom Coulter covers politics in California and the Coachella Valley. He can be reached at thomas.coulter@desertsun.com or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Activists aiming to oust Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, who was a member of the Oath Keepers, in 2022 election

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From The Desert Sun (Palm Springs)

The Desert Sun (Palm Springs)
The Desert Sun (Palm Springs)
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon