The Smith County sheriff’s race is headed for a runoff, according to complete but unofficial results Tuesday.
Two candidates, Larry Smith and Chris Green, emerged as the top two vote-getters in a four-person pack of candidates and will face each other July 31.
Smith, 54, led all candidates with 44 percent, or 12,143 votes with 100 percent of voting precincts reporting.
He is a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent with 34 years of law enforcement experience.
“We would have loved for it to be over tonight, but it looks like another 11 weeks, I guess,” he said.
Smith said he will not change his campaign strategy and will run on the merits of his professional law enforcement record.
“We’ve been anticipating a runoff,” he said. “Now the race really begins.”
Green said his campaign will “regroup and restrategize” for a summer run. He said the campaign will “counter a smear campaign” by “right-wing” Smith County Republicans that came against his campaign in recent weeks.
Both Green and Smith gave little acknowledgment to tension between the two camps and said they would continue to run clean campaigns.
Bobby Garmon, 52, received 17 percent, or 4,678 votes. He has worked for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office for more than 30 years and has served as chief deputy since 2003.
He believed his experience as Sheriff J.B. Smith’s second-in-command prepared him for the position. J.B. Smith endorsed Garmon when he announced his retirement last year.
Garmon said he will retire after 32 years in law enforcement.
Garmon, who serves on various nonprofit boards, said he would continue to serve Smith County as a community leader. He said the race was “in the hands of the voters” and that he likely would not publicly endorse either candidate heading into July.
Donn Rust, 54, finished with 1.3 percent, or 366 votes. He is a businessman and captain for the Precinct 3 constable. He viewed his candidacy as an opportunity to bring a business background into the office to create efficiencies and financial transparency.
The race for sheriff already has been long and expensive.
All four candidates entered the race by September 2011. Garmon announced his candidacy in May 2010 minutes after J.B. Smith announced he would retire. Rust announced he would run in 2009.
The four candidates reported more than $500,000 in combined donations for their campaigns.
Fundraising and spending reached an unprecedented level for a local race.
The race has been heated at times. Campaign shenanigans began early with sign vandalisms in January. Candidates fanned the flames during candidate forums with shots at each other’s respective law enforcement experience and background.
Garmon said a sheriff’s candidate needs to be qualified to do more than measure fish and check hunting licenses. Green laughed at the forum but spent much of the race touting his combined small-business and law enforcement experience.
Smith and Green exchanged fire several times during debates. Green questioned Smith’s credentials as a part of the East Texas church arson investigation in 2010, and the handling of other area crimes was questioned several times during debates. Green said Smith oversold his involvement. Smith said he never inflated his role in the investigations and prosecutions in those crimes.
Both candidates said their first priority will be to improve the office’s patrol presence and response times in rural Smith County.
Smith said the sheriff’s office roster in place is enough to cover the county. By shifting patrol positions and placing investigators on patrol, Smith said he could double the county’s patrol capability. Having seasoned investigators working side-by-side with deputies also would provide crime scene training opportunities for new patrol officers, he said.
Green said he will deliver on his campaign promise of “more boots on the ground,” a reference to injecting more patrol officers in unincorporated areas of the county by thinning administrative positions.
Both candidates said the office is not coordinating its efforts with surrounding law enforcement agencies, such as the Tyler Police Department. They said that by building better relationships and working with surrounding local, state and federal agencies, they could improve the office.
Smith and Green said they would bring different leadership styles to the office.
Green said he would lead as an authority figure first and delegate to trusted administrators and experts in their respective fields while maintaining a participatory presence. He said he has worked well with every law enforcement agency around the county and will continue to do so as sheriff.
Smith said he would lead by example and that his rounded law enforcement background makes him the most qualified to lead without micromanaging personnel. He said experience is necessary to know whether personnel need “a pat on the back or a kick in the behind.”
Both candidates said they looked forward to the runoff.