Incumbents face challengers in key Tulare County races

The Fresno BeeApril 23, 2014 

— The current Tulare County sheriff and district attorney are being challenged by former colleagues in June's election.

Acting Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, 47, who was thrust into the job last year when Sheriff Bill Wittman stepped aside due to health reasons, is endorsed by his old boss and most police officer associations in the county.

Former undersheriff Dave Whaley, 58, who retired five years ago, is endorsed by former Sheriff Bob Wiley and vows to bring leadership to a department he says is suffering from low morale.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Tim Ward, 47, appointed in 2012 to replace Phil Cline when he retired, said he restructured the office to do more prosecutions of elder abuse and crimes against children.

Opponent Ralph Kaelble, 44, a former supervising district attorney who was forced out after Ward took over, said rank-and-file law enforcement personnel are supporting him.

VOTER GUIDE: Learn about the candidates and issues. Build your own ballot.

Yard signs in support of all four candidates have sprung up throughout the county.

Boudreaux, who has 27 years experience, started as a cadet and worked his way up.

Because his father was a detective, "I grew up around the sheriff's department," he said.

Whaley, who has 34 years experience, also started as a cadet.

"I've held every command position in the sheriff's department," he said. "I know how to run the sheriff's department."

Whaley said Boudreaux failed to "hold accountable" leaders of the Tulare County Deputy Sheriff's Association -- the group representing deputies and sergeants -- who reportedly spent member funds to benefit themselves.

"Morale is at an all-time low," he said. "If I'm elected by the people, that's the first thing I have to work on -- to get the morale up."

Boudreaux dismissed Whaley's allegations of low morale as "political rhetoric." Rank and file deputies overwhelmingly support him, Boudreaux said.

The alleged misuse of funds involved nonpublic money and was investigated by the Tulare County District Attorney's Office, which did not file charges, he said.

"We had a candidates night for the deputies, and the deputies voted in secret ballot," he said -- 146-20 in Boudreaux's favor.

Whaley said the vote was taken in November and relatively few of the roughly 500 members voted.

Whaley also made headlines by charging that the Boudreaux campaign held an illegal raffle as a fundraiser.

"There's no question it's a misdemeanor," Whaley said. "It's in the penal code."

Boudreaux said he cleared the raffle with the Department of Justice, the Fair Political Practices Commission, and his lawyer.

Voters see Whaley's complaints "as a mudslinging attempt by the challenger," Boudreaux said.

If elected, Whaley would be at a disadvantage because technology has changed law enforcement since he retired, Boudreaux said.

"My opponent talks a lot about his experience, but he doesn't have the last five years of experience," Boudreaux said.

Whaley said Boudreaux is trying to paint him as "out of touch," but as undersheriff, "we went to paperless reporting and almost paperless booking," he said.

But the most often-asked question on the campaign trail, the candidates said, is whether they support the Second Amendment.

Both said anyone who applies for a concealed weapons permit should get one if they pass a background check.

However, Whaley said that although the sheriffs in Fresno and Kern counties signed letters supporting the Second Amendment, Boudreaux has not.

Boudreaux, who said "I'm a huge Second Amendment advocate," is endorsed by Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.

DA candidates

The race for Tulare County District Attorney heated up when Kaelble scored endorsements from several rank-and-file police officer associations.

"There's no boots-on-the-ground law enforcement group supporting my opponent," Kaelble said.

Ward said police officer associations are labor unions usually controlled by a handful of people.

"My opponent has personal friends on those boards," Ward said. By contrast, "the leadership of law enforcement is behind me," he said.

Kaelble worked at the office 14 years until he left last year, and Ward has worked there 14 years.

Ward, a former Army officer in the tank corps, said since taking over from Cline, he has created new teams of prosecutors to bring justice to victims.

"We got more efficient, and it allows us to focus on our ag crime, our children and our victims of domestic violence and elderly being preyed upon," Ward said. "For the first time ever, we have a crimes against children division."

Kaelble, who worked his way through college as a parks maintenance worker on the weekend shift, said if he's elected he'll focus on training prosecutors.

"I don't think the D.A.'s office is training enough," he said.

Ward said the recent return of former prosecutors has resulted in a staff with more experience than ever, and his office has a 94% conviction rate: "I'm very proud of that."

Kaelble responded that the statistics don't show how felonies have been reduced to misdemeanors just to get a conviction.

"Everything shouldn't be about statistics, it should be about justice," he said.

Kaelble, who ran the D.A's Porterville office for three years, said shortly after Ward took over he was ordered to quit or be fired, and given no reason.

"The public needs to know I have the experience and the passion to do this job," he said.

After Kaelble announced he'd seek election, his wife Afreen, a prosecutor for several years, was forced out, he said.

"My opponent terminated someone because of their political views," he said. "Politics shouldn't come first."

Ward said he is barred from discussing individual cases, but personnel decisions are made in the best interests of the District Attorney's Office without regard to politics.

Kaelble said he's raised about $85,000 so far for the campaign, while the Ward campaign said it has raised about $162,000.

Mike Boudreaux

Hometown: Springville

Age: 47

Occupation: Acting Tulare County sheriff

Education: B.S., Criminal Justice, M.S., Administration of Justice, University of Phoenix. Graduate of FBI National Academy and Los Angeles Police Department West Point Leadership Academy.

Family: Wife, Angela, three children.

Party preference: Republican

Endorsements: Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman, Tulare County Deputy Sheriff's Association, Tulare County Chiefs Association, Professional Law Enforcement Managers Association, Peace Officers Research Association of California, Police officer associations of Dinuba, Exeter, Farmersville and Porterville, Lindsay Public Safety Officers Association, CHP Officers Association, California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson, Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson, Kern County Sheriff's Donny Youngblood.

Dave Whaley

Hometown: Visalia

Age: 57

Occupation: Retired Tulare County undersheriff

Education: A.S., Criminal Justice, College of the Sequoias

Family: Wife, Kathy, three children, five grandchildren

Party preference: Republican

Endorsements: Former Tulare County Sheriff Bob Wiley; Visalia Police Officers Association.

Tim Ward

Hometown: Visalia

Age: 48

Occupation: Tulare County district attorney

Education: B.S., University of Tennessee; J.D., Western State University, College of Law, Fullerton

Family: Wife, Devon, one child.

Party preference: Republican

Endorsements: Former Tulare County District Attorney Phil Cline, Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman, Tulare County Supervisors Phil Cox, Pete Vander Poel, Allen Ishida, Steve Worthley and Mike Ennis, Tulare County District Attorney Investigators Association, College of the Sequoias President Stan Carrizosa, Central Valley Arson Investigators, former Lindsay Council Member Suzi Picasso, Visalia Council Member Warren Gubler.

Ralph Kaelble

Hometown: Visalia

Age: 44

Occupation: Attorney

Education: B.S., California State University, Dominguez Hills; J.D., Loyola Law School

Family: Wife, Afreen, two children.

Party preference: Republican

Endorsements: Tulare County Deputy Sheriff's Association, Visalia Police Officers Association, Police officer associations of Visalia, Porterville, Exeter and Dinuba, Lindsay Public Safety Officers Association, El Centro Mexicano American Latino, Tule River Tribal Council, Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen, Lindsay Council Member Rosaena Sanchez, former Tulare County Assistant District Attorney Don Gallian, Tulare County Hispanic Roundtable.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.

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