In Madera County, gun rights, ag crime key issues in race for sheriff

The Fresno BeeJune 4, 2014 

In the aftermath of his first-place finish in the Madera County sheriff's race, Jay Varney believes his support for personal gun rights resonated with voters.

Varney, the Chowchilla police chief, included the image of a handgun on his campaign signs.

He'll continue using those signs into the fall. Unofficial results from Tuesday's primary show Varney with 31.4% of the vote, giving him the top finish. Varney, the Chowchilla police chief, will be in a runoff with Undersheriff Michael Salvador, who was second with 21.9% of the ballots.

"No matter which part of the county I've been in, the No. 1 question I've been asked is, 'Where do you stand on the Second Amendment?' and of course, 'What is your office's stance on concealed-carry permits?'" Varney said.

Other key issues he plans to address: drug and gang-related crime, along with law enforcement response times.

As Salvador begins his campaign into the fall, he believes the main issues to be "ag crime, threats to our national forest (from illegal marijuana grows), growth in southern Madera County, the effects of AB 109 (prison realignment) and gangs."

Retired California Highway Patrol supervisor Dennis Fairbanks of Coarsegold, who finished third with 18% of the vote, said he's leaning towards endorsing Salvador because he's a friend and has been with the Sheriff's Office for many years.

In the district attorney's race, incumbent Michael Keitz finished second to Oakhurst attorney David Linn. The challenger took 43.8% of the vote compared to Keitz's 36.2%.

Keitz cited Linn's campaign spending, which he said was about double what he spent on the race. Keitz hopes voters consider his 34 years of law enforcement experience -- including his five and a half years as Madera County's top prosecutor.

Linn said jail overcrowding is a major issue and believes in rehabilitative programs for juveniles and some nonserious offenders.

Deputy county counsel Miranda Neal, who finished third with 19.7% of the vote, is endorsing Linn.

"I think that Michael (Keitz) has very poor management skills and is running the office into the ground and is going to continue to cost the taxpayers money," Neal said.

In the supervisors races, Mona Diaz, president of the board of trustees for Golden Valley Unified School District, took the top spot with 24.4% of the vote. She will face small business owner Gary Johns of Madera Ranchos, who was second with 21.5% of the vote.

In District 5, incumbent Tom Wheeler was re-elected with 64.7% of the votes.

Merced races

In Merced County, incumbent Supervisor Linn Davis lost in his re-election attempt to two challengers.

With all precincts counted, Davis placed third in the four-person race. Tony Dossetti -- a Merced city councilman and former police chief -- and Atwater businessman Daron McDaniel will face off in November.

In the race for Merced County sheriff, Vern Warnke, a sheriff's sergeant, and Pat Lunney, the Merced County district attorney's chief investigator, will compete in a November runoff.

The Merced Sun-Star contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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