The two candidates for Clark County sheriff have positioned themselves in a familiar political standoff as the insider, experienced leader and the outsider with fresh ideas.
To Vancouver police Cpl. Rey Reynolds, John Horch’s 33 years in the Clark County Sheriff’s Office are part of the problem. Reynolds said Horch’s tenure as chief criminal deputy means he’s failed to correct the agency’s staffing issues and rising crime in the area.
But to Horch, Reynolds’ 24-year career at the Vancouver Police Department and prior 14 years with the Department of Fish and Wildlife means he’s unfamiliar with the dynamics at the sheriff’s office, and, by extension, the solutions that will actually work. Horch said he has the institutional knowledge of the agency to recognize an effective solution when he sees one.
“I like Rey, and I think he’s a personable guy, but he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on at the sheriff’s office,” Horch said.
But while Horch has more management experience on paper, Reynolds says he’s demonstrated leadership in the community and has been recognized for it.
“I don’t think that people are listening anymore to the status quo, when somebody tells them — that isn’t what leadership is, when it’s only something that you like, check the boxes,” Reynolds said. “He tells you in his (campaign) that he has proven leadership. And I look at this proven leadership, and I’m like, ‘Where is the leadership?’ ”
Horch disputes claims that his administrative position means he’s responsible for the agency’s flaws. At the end of the day, he said, he still answers to Sheriff Chuck Atkins, whom he says he disagrees with on a variety of issues.
“I’m not the captain of the ship,” Horch said. “I do not set the course right now, and that’s why I’m running. I think that we’ve gotten off course, and everywhere I can influence, I have done everything I can, and I’ve made some great strides and progress.”
During debate appearances, Reynolds often brings proposed solutions to the issues on voters’ minds, but Horch says Reynolds’ ideas reveal his lack of familiarity with the sheriff’s office or knowledge on how to manage a law enforcement agency. Horch said most of the police corporal’s ideas are things the sheriff’s office is already doing or aren’t reasonable for a county agency with its resources.
“You’re not just getting out there making statements, you have to run a company and you have to have the people behind you,” Horch said. “If you don’t have that experience, you can’t even tackle these crime problems. You don’t even know where to start. If you don’t have this experience of where the issues are at, making statements does not mean that you’ve been a leader in those things.”
Horch was the top vote-getter in the August primary election with 42.88 percent of the vote, and Reynolds was close behind at 41.16 percent.
Spectrum of support
Although Reynolds claims staff at the sheriff’s office are unhappy with what he calls a “toxic” work environment, Horch boasts endorsements and financial support from people within the agency.
Atkins endorsed Horch, which came as little surprise because the sheriff appointed Horch to his post in 2019. The deputy and command guilds at the sheriff’s office also endorsed Horch.
One of Horch’s recent endorsements has come from Jill Brown, the widow of sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Brown, who was killed in the line of duty in July 2021.
He also has the endorsement of nearby county sheriffs, some Clark County prosecutors, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, and area historian and activist Pat Jollota, according to Horch’s campaign website.
Reynolds appears to have spurred some grassroots support from community members and small-business owners. To them, Reynolds represents a new face to address their concerns over rising crime and an understaffed law enforcement force.
Reynolds touts the endorsements of conservative figures, such as Portland-based talk show host Lars Larson and former police chief and gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, along with the Clark County Republican Party.
Although the sheriff is a nonpartisan office, Reynolds has campaigned alongside Republican candidates, such as 3rd Congressional District candidate Joe Kent and 49th Legislative District candidate Jeremy Baker. But Reynolds says he cares about everyone’s safety.
“I do campaign with people who believe in the safety of Clark County,” Reynolds said. “And I believe in the absolute safety of Clark County, and if you agree with me in saying, ‘Hey, we are not safe, and we need to be safe,’ then join me, whether you’re a Democrat, whether you’re an independent, join me in walking with those people who actually believe that we have a duty to be safe.”
Horch says he’ll attend any campaign event he’s invited to — whether for Republican or Democrat candidates — to meet people, but he hasn’t aligned himself with any candidates. He said that’s because the sheriff has a responsibility to all Clark County citizens, regardless of their political affiliation.
“You’re a sheriff for everybody because when you get into office, you don’t want to have 50 percent of the people to already have an idea about you,” Horch said. “I need everybody’s support in the community — and you won’t get it all, but you should have a majority. Bringing a political slant or a political bias to the office should be avoided.”
But Horch’s support from some area Democrats has led some conservatives to claim he aligns himself with Democratic policies they feel have contributed to rising crime. Horch has been critical of recent state police reform legislation and said he’s worked with lawmakers to make things better for officers.
Reynolds has said he won’t enforce laws he believes are “unjust” or unconstitutional, saying he and other law enforcement leaders answer to the Constitution. Those views have drawn criticism and raised concerns that he wouldn’t enforce laws he disagrees with, if he alone perceives they violate his reading of the Constitution.
Horch said it’s not up to a sheriff to decide what’s constitutional. He said it is up to the courts to determine the legality of legislation, and he said he would maintain his close relationship with the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to assess how the agency can address any concerns over violating people’s rights. He called Reynolds’ stance “dangerous” and said it would encourage deputies to break the law by not enforcing it.
Reynolds was also endorsed by former sheriff candidate David Shook, who did not make it past the August primary race. Shook said in his endorsement announcement that Reynolds had also offered him a position in the agency’s administration if he was elected, but Reynolds was quick to rebut claims of what might have been seen as an unethical quid pro quo.
Shook has since been chosen to manage the Clark County Jail after it transitions away from the jurisdiction of the sheriff and becomes a county department. Shook was the only one of the three sheriff’s candidates in the primary race with corrections experience.
The outdated, unsafe and poorly maintained jail had previously been a contentious campaign issue; an issue that Horch has been involved in during his tenure and one that Reynolds said he had a whole host of ideas for. Both Horch and Reynolds have expressed disappointment in the county’s move to wrestle oversight from the sheriff but said they are hopeful conditions might improve.