Incumbent O.C. sheriff defends her record

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. /*Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens*/ says she started campaigning two years ago, proving herself, since the /*Orange County Board of Supervisors*/ chose her to be the county's top cop after former Sheriff /*Mike Carona*/ resigned mid-term, indicted on corruption charges. Carona is now appealing a felony witness-tampering conviction.

"I've been sheriff for two years in the most trying times that any sheriff in this county has ever had to face," said Hutchens.

Running against her, former Orange County Sheriff's Lt. /*Bill Hunt*/ and Anaheim Deputy Chief /*Craig Hunter*/.

Hunter criticizes what he calls her "Los Angeles-style" values. Hutchens shook up her command staff, bringing in two L.A. law-enforcement veterans. Hutchens is a retired L.A. County Sheriff's Department division chief.

"I've made the same percentage budget cuts that the sheriff's been asked to do," said Craig Hunter. "It's really a matter of knowing how to make the cuts and how to do it in a way that you include everyone in solving the problem."

Through resignations, promotions without pay raises and layoffs, Hutchens cut $19 million from the budget, meeting her goal with the help of an extra $5 million allocated by the board. Several former top officials, however, are filing wrongful-termination claims against the county.

"It was a difficult, gut-wrenching decision to make to lay off tenured people, but I felt it was much better to do that at the top than to do it at the bottom, where people are serving the community directly," said Hutchens.

Hunt ran against Carona four years ago and now works as a private investigator. He gained the endorsement of the /*Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs*/ and /*Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio*/ from Arizona, dubbed "America's toughest sheriff." Arpaio is under investigation by the FBI for alleged abuse of authority.

"I'm not concerned at all," said Bill Hunt. "I mean, you know they're investigating him for doing his job."

Hunt and Hunter criticize Hutchens for being too restrictive with concealed-weapons permits. She rescinded many handed out previously by Carona.

"I would issue concealed weapons to any law-abiding citizen," said Hunt.

"This is where campaign rhetoric comes into play. It's not restrictive, but we're following the law," said Hutchens.

To save money, both Hunt and Hunter suggest making inmates with health insurance pay for their in-custody medical treatment. Hunter said he would also go after gangs more vigorously. Hunt wants tougher illegal immigration enforcement.

Hutchens says she's made some tough decisions, but she hopes voters realize public safety has always come first.

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