Dodge County sheriff candidates have first debate
JUNEAU — The candidates for the top law enforcement office in Dodge County met Monday night at the Juneau Community Center for the first of two debates before the Aug. 14 primary election that will effectively decide who will hold the position for the next four years.
Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt is vying for a second term and is opposed by Dodge County Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Ketchem, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 22 years. Both are running as Republicans, requiring the primary election. The winner will have no official opposition on the November general election ballot.
The debate was sponsored by the Dodge County Sworn Officer Labor Association of Wisconsin #120.
“I am running for sheriff because I was compelled to do so by my co-workers, fellow law enforcement officers from this county and citizens,” Ketchem said. “After much prayerful consideration, my wife and I decided that I would try to run for sheriff because the county deserves better than what it is getting. We need someone who is a true servant leader.”
Ketchem said Schmidt has claimed to be battling opioids in Dodge County, but said arrest data doesn’t indicate a concerted effort. He pointed out that between 2014-17, the sheriff’s office has had two to three full-time deputies on the Dodge County’s Drug Task Force, while the Beaver Dam Police Department has had one officer assigned. In that time period, the sheriff’s office made 75 cocaine or opioid arrests, while with lesser devoted resources, the Beaver Dam Police Department had 132 arrests.
In addition, Ketchem questioned Schmidt’s success rates with his traffic crash efforts and burglary clearances rates during his opening statements.
Schmidt said he was “proud to had been your sheriff for the last 3½ years and couldn’t have done the great work without the support of staff and my beautiful wife Cassandra,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt spoke about his community service, including Beaver Dam Rotary where he has spearheaded the Christmas lights project at Swan City Park, and serving as a board member for the Watertown Community Health Organization.
He also touted his endorsements and fiscal responsibility.
“I’m the only Republican running in this race,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been endorsed by the Attorney General, by the Dodge County Republican Party, 50 Wisconsin sheriffs throughout the state. I’ve saved Dodge County taxpayers $1.8 million this year, and I’m asking the voters for your support.”
Both candidates agreed that the opioid epidemic was the most pressing problem in Dodge County. Schmidt looked at backing a plan of treatment, education and enforcement to battle the drugs in the county. Ketchem said that there were more drugs to worry about and favored evidence-based decision-making to combat drugs and alcohol.
The closing of Pod J of the Dodge County Jail came up as well. Schmidt said that he recommended the closure and replacing the pod so that the county could continue to house federal inmates as a money-making endeavor. The Dodge County Board, however, has not supported an addition to the jail.
“To close Pod J without replacing it will have a $2 million impact,” Schmidt said.
Ketchem said that without a federal contract, there was no way to know if the beds in the jail would be filled by federal inmates and questioned why there had been no increase in the cost of the beds being used by federal inmates. He also said jail employees are short-staffed and overworked.
“This is a program that has worked for the last 15 years,” said Schmidt, who noted that the issue is closed and that he will go along with the decision made by the county board.
Schmidt said the shortage of correctional officers is a statewide problem and not endemic to Dodge County.
Questions posed by the public ranged from whether the position of sheriff should be a political office, the candidates’ stance on the Second Amendment and whether marijuana use should be legalized.
In his answer to the question about the political nature of the office, Schmidt said he felt Ketchem’s entrance in the Republican primary was deceitful.
“If he is a Democrat, fine, then run as a Democrat in the general election,” Schmidt said. “Don’t deceive the people by putting it on your campaign registration when you have always been known as a Democrat.”
Ketchem said he has never had a membership in any political party and joined the Republican Party when he decided to run for sheriff. He did not say why he chose to run as a Republican, but did say he didn’t see the job of sheriff as being a political position.
“I believe law enforcement is a job you do without bias,” Ketchem said.
The candidates were also asked about the Spillman software used by law enforcement and what training will be offered to the Beaver Dam Police Department, whose members have raised issues with the software, to make them more comfortable with it.
Schmidt said he has been trying to work with Beaver Dam officers but has met resistance with the political campaign going on. Several Beaver Dam officers as well as the Beaver Dam Police Union are publicly supporting Ketchem.
Ketchem supports the use of the Spillman software, but said he would make sure it was working efficiently for other communities.
Both candidates said they supported the Second Amendment, and they both said that they feared there would be increased crashes if marijuana was legalized for recreational use.
Ketchem noted that while Schmidt is the incumbent, he has more experience as a lawman.
“If elected sheriff, I will make sound financial decisions based on data,” Ketchem said, who pointed out that he has more years in law enforcement than Schmidt to go along with a leadership role at the sheriff’s office.
Ketchem referenced rifts within the sheriff’s office and between it and other organizations, and said he’s the candidate to address that issue.
“I’m the person who can heal the damaged relationships in our department as well as other law enforcement around the county,” Ketchem said.
The second debate, sponsored by the Beaver Dam Chamber of Commerce, will be Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Beaver Dam Veterans Center, 215 Corporate Drive.