Sheriff’s race promises to be flush with well-qualified candidates

Just more than a year away from the March 2018 primaries, a line has started to form to determine who will be the next sheriff of Robeson County.

Randy Graham, who is currently an Internal Affairs investigator with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, surpised no one last week when he made it official that he will run, using the front page of this newspaper to announce his plans.

Graham’s candidacy puts to rest the question of whether Kenneth Sealey, who was appointed sheriff in 2005 and then won three elections, would seek what would amount to a fifth term. It is clear to us that Sealey will put a wrap on his long law enforcement career, because it’s unlikely Graham would run against his current boss, and could depart without any major scandal — which this county desperately needed.

Graham said he will quit his job at the Sheriff’s Office soon to avoid any appearance that he was campaigning while being paid by taxpayers. We applaud that decision, which he didn’t have to make.

Graham has deep roots in this county and has worked for more than 30 years in the judicial system and in law enforcement. He is also well-liked. His father, the late Paul Graham, was this county’s manager for more than two decades.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the line grows. We believe Graham will force the hand of others who don’t want to allow him a significant head-start.

It’s not a secret that Burnis Wilkins, a career law enforcement office who is now on the Lumberton City Council, has an “exploratory committee” with a Facebook presence to gauge if there exists sufficient support for his candidacy. And there appears to be plenty of support for him to do so.

Others who haven’t publicly announced but are expected to are Ronnie Patterson, the well-respected police chief in Red Springs, and Lennis Watts, a former highway patrolman who served on the county Board of Commissioners and twice made strong but unsuccessful runs for sheriff, in 2010 and then again in 2014.

The wild-card is the Republican Party, which has demonstrated with the election of Danny Britt as a state senator that it is no longer the Washington Generals in local elections. This county, which has been taken for granted for decades by Democratic candidates on all levels, showed in November that this is a new day, turning out for Donald Trump, Pat McCrory and Richard Burr.

A Republican candidate for sheriff is most likely to get a pass in what is often the bloody primary that Democrats must survive to enter the General Election, which means that person would go into the fall campaign untouched, with fresh legs and flush with cash. So it’s not beyond belief that a Republican could be elected as sheriff.

Regardless, it is a slam dunk that Robeson County voters will have a deep field of candidates with strong law enforcement credentials to elect as their next sheriff.

The race promises to be interesting and, as they always are on the local scene, filled with acrimony.


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