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Sheriff’s race moves forward without candidate

August 23, 2018

Although he won the Republican primary for Butler County sheriff earlier this year, Travis Prokupek said he backed out of the race over concerns about local government.

A Bellwood native, Prokupek beat out incumbent and current Butler County Sheriff Marcus Siebken in the May primary. But, he said, he made the tough choice to remove himself from the race recently after what he said were disappointing interactions with some county officials, who he did not name.

“After getting (the) chance to meet county leaders, my family and I decided it was not going to be in our best interest to pursue it anymore. I don’t think I was a good fit for how those county leaders want things run,” Prokupek said on Aug. 17. “I felt everyone was already against me.”

Prokupek currently resides in Polk County, having served as a deputy there the last three years. It follows a stint (August 2009-2015) as an Alaska state trooper and several years in the military. The Aquinas High School in David City alumnus said running for sheriff was about serving his native county and providing his family with a great place to live. So, he noted, deciding not to continue in the race was a difficult, albeit necessary choice.

“It’s disappointing how everything is so cliquey there and run that way,” he alleged. “The people obviously voted they wanted a change, but you can’t change things if people in charge of your job already don’t like you and are against you. It’s like fighting a losing battle. This was very hard. I was confident it was going to come down to a very good race between me and (Democratic candidate) Tom Dion.”

Butler County Attorney Julie Reiter said she was disappointed when she heard from a Butler County Board of Supervisor member that Prokupek had dropped out of the race. She noted she was shocked when hearing from The Banner-Press that Prokupek said he took issue with county leaders.

“I’m kind of surprised. I don’t know where he would have gotten that idea,” Reiter said. “That’s unfortunate because my office would work with anyone who is the elected sheriff. I hope he didn’t get that from my office because I thought (our meeting) went well.”

Reiter said she saw Prokupek at two Butler County Board of Supervisors meetings, however, did not interact with him directly there. She said she had one one-on-one meeting with him on July 3.

“I met with him once when he came to my office unannounced after court one day, and I had what I thought was a nice conversation with him,” she said. “I personally hadn’t decided who I was going to vote for, but he certainly wasn’t disregarded as a viable candidate in my opinion. I thought our conversation was fairly positive. I wished him luck; I even mentioned to other people our conversation went positive.”

Butler County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Mach also seemed shocked over Prokupek’s comments to The Banner-Press.

“I thought we were fair. I didn’t think we gave any indication we were for one candidate or the other,” Mach said. “I don’t know where he would have come up with that. We’ve always supported our sheriff no matter who they were.”

The race itself is moving forward. Dion is running on the Democratic side of the ticket. He said he did not want to comment on Prokupek, but added he was optimistic about the race.

“I’m feeling very good about it; very confident,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of good response and a lot of support throughout the whole county.”

Siebken and the Butler County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday confirmed he was back on the ballot as a Republican candidate in the sheriff’s race. He noted he was feeling positive about the future.

“I was shocked when Travis backed out and felt like I had a second chance, so I am pretty excited knowing there are second chances out there and that things happen for a reason,” he said.

The current sheriff said his slogan for his campaign is ‘progressive leader for a progressive county,’ noting there are many great things going on in the sheriff’s office right now.

Siebken said he wasn’t sure as to why Prokupek dropped out but said Prokupek told him he had a place on the team if he won the election.

“After he beat me in the primary, we got along. I think he would have run this county just fine,” Siebken said. “Travis said he was going to keep me on staff. Maybe he just didn’t think it was a good fit at this time. I don’t know.”

Shawn Gray will be a Republican write-in candidate on the November ballot. The former Butler County Sheriff’s deputy, who resigned from his post in February, said he initially decided to petition to become a write-in candidate on Aug. 3 with encouragement from friends and residents of David City. He said at that time Prokupek had dropped out and he wasn’t sure what Siebken’s status was following his defeat in the primary.

“I thought Marcus was completely out of it and I felt there needed to be another candidate,” said Gray, who currently works part-time for the Exeter Police Department as an officer, also does private security work and teaches a firearms class for TIII Operational Solutions out of Lincoln.

Gray said he had heard different reasons in the community as to why Prokupek dropped out of the race, however, said he couldn’t speak to it because he hadn’t talked to the man directly. He said he’s just focused on the race.

“My goal for the sheriff’s office is to bring the deputies back into the community and spend more actual time in the towns – more community involvement,” Gray said. “I want to bring them back into the communities, having them focus on their citizens’ concerns.”

Meanwhile, Prokupek said he plans to continue serving as a deputy in Polk County.

“Thank you for your support, I wish it could have gone further,” Prokupek said to those in Butler County who voted for him. “But it would have been too big of a risk for my family. My wife and I just decided it wasn’t going to be a good fit for how I wanted to do things. We cannot relocate to be battling.”

As for whether or not he’ll ever run for county sheriff somewhere else down the line, it’s a door he’s not willing to completely shut just yet.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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