Saturday, October 23, 2004

Texarkana Sheriff candidates differ on drugs

One of my deepest frustrations with drug policy is that the terms of public debate are circumscribed to remove most solutions from the table before discussion even begins. The terms of debate are changing, though, and in Texas we're starting to have discussions about whether the criminal justice system can resolve the state's drug problems, really, for the first time.

The two candidates for Bowie County sheriff in Texarkana typify these slowly shifting terms of debate, offering quite different approaches to the drug war in Thursday's Texarkana Gazette.

The Republican challenger Mike Landers, presently works as deputy sheriff and DARE officer in the department. He appears to view law enforcement as essentially an opportunity for generating revenue, as though it were a business. He proposes restarting the county's defunct drug task force "to enhance revenues by taking drug money from dealers," and he wants to use a county corrections facility to house out of state prisoners for profit. Naturally, he thinks the failed DARE program should be continued, and wants uniformed deputies staffed in the schools.

(Perhaps no one told Deputy Landers that the man atop his Republican ticket, President Bush, tried to eliminate funding for drug task forces each of his four years in office. John Kerry egregiously supports their full funding.)

By contrast, the Democratic incumbent sheriff, James Prince voiced surprisingly reasonable views on the subject for an East Texas law enforcement official in the middle of an election. He too "attributed most crimes to the ongoing illegal drug trade. 'Drugs cause a majority of these crimes,' he said." ... "'But just arresting the drug users and putting them in jail isn't the answer,' Prince said. 'We will have to do more and we will.'" He also proposes greater focus on domestic violence and abuse cases.

Just five years ago, amigos, no Texas politician would ever utter the phrase "just arresting the drug users and putting them in jail isn't the answer," and certainly not during an election season. For thirty years that's been the only answer Texas law enforcement had for combatting drug addiction. Sheriff Prince takes a big risk here by indulging in what the Bush administration calls "reality based" thinking, while his opponent demagogues for more of the same, failed strategies. Here's hoping Bowie County voters reward the Sheriff's good sense on the subject with a second term.

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