The bizarre, seemingly never-ending race for Tulsa County sheriff has seen more than its share of twists and turns. But for incumbent Sheriff Vic Regalado and challenger Rex Berry, here’s the good news: It’s almost over.
It was 14 months ago that candidates first began speaking publicly about running to replace Stanley Glanz, and the first twist came almost immediately. Not long after three Republicans (Jim Rice, John Fitzpatrick, and Dan Miller) stated their intentions to run, Glanz was indicted by a grand jury and resigned in shame from the office he’d held for nearly three decades.
Following Glanz’s indictment and resignation, Gov. Mary Fallin called for a special election to fill out the remainder of Glanz’s term. But timing dictated a short election cycle— the primary was set for March 1 and the special general election was set for April 5, then the candidates had to turn around and file to run for the full four-year term a week later.
And once the special election dates were set, the floodgates opened. Thirteen people filed to run for sheriff, the busiest race in recent memory. In fact, in the 28 years between Glanz’s first election and the end of his reign, only nine people had sought the job.
In the end, Regalado survived a series of controversies to win the Republican primary. Then he bested Berry in the April general election. Seven months later, the two are squaring off again, and it sounds like they’re both ready for it to be over.
‘Get my life back’
Campaigning as a down-ticket candidate is always hard work, no matter what office you’re seeking. But Berry has probably had a rougher go of it than most.
A Democrat trying to become sheriff in a largely Republican county is an uphill battle, but Berry has seemingly faced one steep incline after another, to the point where even getting campaign signs made became a struggle.
The company he thought would be printing his signs declined to do, saying they would print no more Democrat signs. To get the signs printed he turned to Millie Hardesty York, a Democratic candidate herself for House District 71, who owns a printing company.
However, while she could print the signs, she had none of the wires used to stake the signs to the ground.
“She printed them, then we had to go get the wires somewhere and put them together,” Berry said. “I’ll be glad to be done with those.”
In fact, it sounds like Berry will be glad to be done with it all.
During a press conference earlier this month where he outlined his recommendations for the Sheriff’s Office, he was asked why he wanted to be sheriff.
Reliving that moment during a recent interview with The Frontier, Berry mocked his own response to the question. Eyes wide open in bewilderment, he said he thought to himself, “That’s a good question.”
“Honestly, it’s not a passion of mine,” Berry, a retired Tulsa Police Officer who spent years overseas training foreign police departments, said about the sheriff gig. “I’m presenting an alternative, someone with the skills to do a good job. But the idea of committing four years to it is not something I’m excited about.
“If Regalado wins on (Nov. 8) I will wake up just as happy on the ninth.”
In many ways Berry is the consummate underdog. He’s a “liberal” running for sheriff in a county with 55,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, and when it comes to fundraising, he’s tens of thousands of dollars behind Regalado. He’s withstood barbs from a bizarre Twitter account linked to Regalado’s campaign, and he’s displayed resilience on the campaign trail, holding repeated press conferences despite his own party chairman referring to him as “low energy.”
However, his candidacy has been successful by some measures. His face-off against Regalado in April was closer percentage-wise — he got 38 percent of the vote to Regalado’s 62 percent — than any of the two Republican primaries. And, Berry said, he wanted his ideas, such as selling off the Stanley Glanz Training Center, and putting more focus on the jail and its mental health needs, to get traction in Tulsa’s news cycle in hopes that they would help encourage discussion.
“I’ve been pleased to see my ideas be talked about,” Berry told The Frontier. “Those are my points, and I got my ideas out there.”
But there are other aspects of the campaign he hasn’t been pleased with. Berry said that when the Tulsa County Democratic Party recruited him out of a happy retirement of hanging out with his girlfriend and playing with his grandkids, he was promised more support than he feels he’s received, both in terms of donations and volunteers.
“They got so split (during the primary season) between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that for local candidates like me, it was like, ‘Is anyone going to tell me how to run a campaign?’” Berry said. “At first they told me ‘just wait till after the primaries’ (Berry was the only Democrat and so faced no primary opponent), but really it was about three weeks before the election that we did any real campaigning. For someone like me, who is very organized by nature, it was very difficult.”
Then, when he lost to Regalado in the April special election, he was encouraged by supporters to run again in November. The defeat, he was told, might only be temporary — the winner of the special election would only be sheriff for seven months before another election took place. Once the full four-year term was on the table, they promised him, so would the volunteer hours and donations.
But they never materialized.
“If there’s a frustration, it’s that they never showed up,” Berry said. “I gave my word that I would run again and I’m doing it the best I can.”
He wakes up at night, pondering new ideas he would impose as sheriff, and pours over documents he’s requested so he can gain an understanding of what difficulties he would face as sheriff. Then he throws his hands in the air, realizing it’s likely for not. In the first Republican primary in March, Regalado got 40 percent of the vote, besting eight other contenders. Despite the controversies that dogged him, and the fact that four of his main opponents (Miller, John Fitzpatrick, Jason Jackson and Tom Helm) threw their support behind Luke Sherman’s candidacy, Regaldo increased his margin of victory in the June primary, grabbing 64 percent of the vote.
Now seven months entrenched as sheriff, Regalado will be near impossible to unseat.
But that’s not necessarily bad news to Berry.
“If I lose, at least I get my life back,” he said.
‘Prepare for the worst’
By any measure, Regalado stepped into a quagmire when he took over as sheriff earlier this year.
Glanz was awaiting trial, as was Robert Bates, the reserve deputy whose killing of Eric Harris and close relationship with Glanz helped bring the former sheriff down. The Sheriff’s Office budget had been a mess for years, with money being shuffled around from one department to the other to help cover bills.
The training center, a $2.4 million money pit that at one point was supposed to bear Glanz’s name, sat unfinished and, according to some critics, possibly unneeded.
The reserve deputy program badly needed reforms that would drastically cut the number of volunteers who would go through the program. Speaking of reforms, critics had howled at Glanz’s statement to the Tulsa World that the property appraisers he hired — jobs for which you could earn tens of thousands of dollars for little work — were “patronage positions” he’d given out to friends who agreed to donate the maximum amount to his re-election campaigns. Glanz never faced a serious challenge in his nearly 30 years as sheriff.
In his time as sheriff, Regalado has revamped the reserve deputy program, instituting stricter controls to help ensure that there are no more Bates-like controversies. Those reforms have been somewhat unpopular to some members of the program, which has seen its number of volunteer deputies drop from more than 100 to between 30 and 40.
He also made the appraisers re-apply for their jobs, though that’s as far as those reforms have gone so far. Regalado has supported proposed legislation that would change the way appraisers are hired.
He hired an outside “budgetary specialist” to help straighten out the books, and says he has “micromanaged spending.” He’s also floated the idea of selling TCSO’s downtown home at the Faulkner Building and moving offices north to the training facility.
The “good-ole-boy” system Glanz was criticized for? “That wasn’t a lie,” Regalado said, noting he’s worked to create a promotions system that has oversight and is fair.
“To say a lot has been done in a short amount of time would be an understatement,” Regalado said in a recent interview with The Frontier. “I really was mentally prepared for what I was in store for. It was a mindset of ‘I’m preparing for the worst.’”
But, with just two weeks to go before Election Day, politics is always in the back of his mind.
“If I had to nail it down, that’s probably the hardest thing for me,” he said. “Politics and law enforcement are two separate things, and when you intermingle those things, it gets messy. That’s been the most difficult part.”
But that’s part of the gig. So after Regalado was elected in the April special election, he put on his politician’s hat almost immediately and went back to campaigning. Nearly seven months later, he says he’s looking forward to that chapter ending, one way or the other.
“Somebody asked me, ‘Why on God’s green earth are you running for this thing? You have a successful career. Why would you jump in this thing?’” Regalado said. “It’s easy to serve when … everyone loves you. But true service comes out when things are bad. … That’s why I took this job. I truly felt I could make a difference, and that may be me being naive, but that’s OK. If I can leave something good here, mission accomplished. Even if I’m out in November, I can say I gave it my all. … I can look back and hold my head up high. If I lose four years from now I can hold my head up and say I’m proud of what I did.
“Now, will I punch myself in the face for it one day? Maybe.”