Jim Davis retired on July 1 after being the Sheriff of Pulaski County for the past two decades and his departure ignited the most contentious race for Sheriff the area has ever seen.
With the special election on November 7 fast approaching, the four-candidate race is tightening up. While Buck Dowdy and Brian Wade are running on the ballot as independents, the majority of voters seem to be backing the Republican and Democratic nominees–Mike Honaker and the interim Sheriff Mike Worrell.
While the candidates themselves have so far refrained from bashing each other, their supporters have taken a no-holds-barred approach, especially opponents of Mike Honaker.
Vague rumors and questionable accusations have run rampant about Honaker on social media, although specifics and evidence of the allegations are scant.
Yard signs and billboards have also popped up around Pulaski County urging “Just Say NO to Mike Honaker.” The messages contain a footnote saying they were paid for by Carl Lambert and not endorsed by any candidate.
The signs prompted a response from Mike Honaker on his Facebook page, in which he referenced another rumor about him being in a secretive State Police organization.
“The man who causes these signs to be posted is mentally ill, obviously, and is the same man who states that I am ‘a Mason in a secret Masonic organization in the Virginia State Police,'” Honaker said in the statement. “…When the ‘other side’ has no plan, no vision, and no history of great work in our community, all they can do is lie, slander, and tear down…”
To his credit, Sheriff Mike Worrell did issue a statement via his offical Facebook page in which he distances himself from the negative Honaker ads. “The billboard signs placed on Friday September 22nd are in no way affiliated with my campaign for sheriff. I denounce the signs, the intent behind them, and in no way support the use of such tactics during the election process.”
Amidst all the mud-slinging, some local citizens are fed up with the negativity. “Why tear a man down? It seems the only four people involved in this campaign that are keeping it clean are the candidates themselves,” says a recent Facebook post. “…It seems some of you are losing your minds over a campaign with 4 decent candidates. That doesn’t bring communities together and in this day and age we need men who will stand up and preach a message of brotherhood, not division.”
Other citizens simply want to hear more from the candidates themselves to make a better decision. “This is a decision that a lot of Pulaski County citizens are struggling with, and they feel like they don’t have enough information to make the right choice,” says a statement on The Pulaski Star Facebook page.
Hearing more from the candidates themselves has been no easy undertaking up to this point. With the exception of Honaker who uses social media regularly to broadcast his message, citizens have had to rely on written statements from the other candidates to learn about them.
Mike Honaker has been berated on social media for speaking to the public too much. One user’s comment on The Pulaski Star’s page says, “I would rather vote for someone who keeps quiet than someone who diarrhea at the mouth.”
Another Honaker opponent posted, “I pray people will stop drinking the Kool aid he is giving out.”
“Drinking the Kool Aid” seems to be a favorite expression among some of the Honaker opposition, an apparent allusion to the Jonestown deaths of 1978 in which followers of cult leader Jim Jones drank a fatal mixture of Kool Aid and poison.
In terms of hearing candidates speak, Honaker’s “Kool Aid” has been the only regular drink available in a dry desert. The other candidates have been reluctant to speak on camera about their intentions for the office of Sheriff.
Silence from the other three candidates may be partly to blame for fueling more negativity toward Honaker. Rather than being able to talk more about the candidate they support and their plans for the office, the opposition has targeted Honaker who has laid out his plan in multiple videos.
Hearing more direct statements (such as video) from the candidates themselves would help in squelching the rising levels of negativity surrounding this election.
The written statement from Worrell concerning the billboard was a classy move and a good example of what supporters need to hear from their candidates. If supporters are urged to keep the race focused on the positive, a lot of the divisiveness among the community will dissipate. Continued silence, on the other hand, could be interpreted as a green light for supporters to continue negative attacks.
No matter which candidate emerges the winner in November, there will probably be some hard feelings over this election for years to come. As Pulaski County citizens, let’s hope the negativity doesn’t distract voters from choosing the most qualified Sheriff.