High Noon Is Near for Sheriff Candidates


Bill Hunt looks like the cat that swallowed the Carona.

We’re talking Friday morning outside a Laguna Hills coffee shop, but Hunt’s thoughts are on this Wednesday, a day that might change his life.

He will admit to no overconfidence. He will make no predictions.

But he looks like somebody who knows something. Or, at least, who has a cop’s hunch. Like, perhaps his plan to unseat his boss, two-term Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, is about to get a big boost.

On Wednesday, the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs will endorse one of four candidates for sheriff. Hunt, a 21-year veteran of the department and currently San Clemente’s chief of police services, says a win would be “the shot heard ‘round the world in this race.”


The other candidates on the June 6 ballot are Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Ralph Martin and retired Los Angeles sheriff’s Deputy Robert G. Alcaraz. However, with Hunt’s long local tenure, he figures to be Carona’s chief threat.

Hunt talks about Wednesday’s vote with such vigor that I figure he must know something good. Not so, he says, but adds: “I’m plugged into this department. I talk to deputies, sergeants, lieutenants and captains every day, and the undertone is: ‘We need a change.’ ”

Not long ago, that would have made me laugh. Carona had broad-based support and buzz about statewide political promise. He won reelection in 2002 without opposition and was the local pol that other Republicans wanted to be identified with.

That was then. In the last couple of years, he’s been clobbered from various angles by allegations and in-house scandals that have wobbled him. Most recent proof: He fell a vote short last week of getting the endorsement of the county Republican Party’s central committee. A party leader attributed it to low turnout. Duly noted.

This week’s vote will test Carona’s strength inside his own organization. The group has more than 2,200 active and retired members -- all eligible voters -- and Hunt expects about 1,200 to vote. An association official said about 900 ballots had been received as of Friday afternoon.

“If we win, it’s a very clear vote of no confidence for the sheriff,” Hunt says. “On top of his scandal-ridden legacy, it would be almost impossible for him to overcome that, and he knows it.”


Uh, what would it mean if Carona won the endorsement? “If they support him,” Hunt says, “then I guess they’re not ready to stand up and oppose him and, in that case, we’re going to have a tough case to make.”

Would he drop out? “No. I will hang in there and see where it goes, but I’m telling you, it’d be virtually impossible to beat him barring an indictment.”

I like that he didn’t mealy-mouth his answer. Plus, he can’t ignore the fact that Carona has a lot of local name recognition -- good and bad -- and shouldn’t have trouble raising money.

Unless, of course, the wind starts to shift.

That’s why Hunt is banking so much on Wednesday’s vote. If the rank and file turn on Carona, Hunt believes, political people and other voters will take note.

To be fair to Hunt, he’s got a long list of specific things he wants to do if elected. But he’s savvy enough to realize that elections aren’t always about a candidate’s position papers -- especially with someone most voters don’t know. Elections often are about personality and fund-raising and getting out the vote.

I remind Hunt of the 2002 election for district attorney. In-house challenger Wally Wade hoped that a run of bad publicity for incumbent Tony Rackauckas would dethrone him. Wade, a deputy D.A., even won the endorsement from the deputy district attorney association. On election day, Rackauckas won handily.


Hunt says that’s not a perfect analogy, but adds: “I don’t deny it’s a tough, uphill battle. But I think I have a great shot. You have no shot at all if you fold up your tent and walk away.”


Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at An archive of his recent columns is at