Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith, who long has aspired to be sheriff of St. Tammany Parish, announced his candidacy Tuesday — a decision spurred in part by the seismic shake-up in the parish’s political landscape over the past year.
“Now’s the time for a new sheriff,” Smith said, pointing to last year’s election of a new coroner and district attorney and the turnover four years earlier in the parish president’s office brought about by term limits.
Newcomers won two of those parishwide seats following turmoil in the offices they sought: Former Coroner Peter Galvan is serving time in federal prison, and District Attorney Walter Reed announced he would not seek a sixth term amid a federal investigation and a storm of negative media coverage.
Nothing like that has happened in the Sheriff’s Office, where Jack Strain is serving his fifth term in office.
But Strain closed down a controversial work-release program last spring amid critical media coverage of lax oversight at the facility, which was run by people connected to him. And he received something of a setback last month when his chief deputy, Brian Trainor, was defeated by Warren Montgomery in the race for DA of the 22nd Judicial District. Strain had strongly backed Trainor, as did other law enforcement officials, including Smith.
Strain has drawn one other challenger, Jennifer Werther, a retired Navy chief petty officer and the secretary of the state Libertarian Party. She announced her bid on social media months ago, saying she decided to run for office because she perceives an erosion of liberties at home.
“People want something different, that’s for sure,” she said Tuesday.
But Smith’s entrance means Strain will face an experienced opponent with a winning track record. Smith soundly defeated Ben Morris, a former Slidell mayor and police chief, for police chief in 2010 and was re-elected without opposition last spring.
Smith joked that he was trying to “break the cycle” of term-limited police chiefs running for mayor of Slidell.
Strain said he prepares for challengers every election cycle. While he’s already started campaigning, the formal kickoff of his race for the Oct. 24 primary will be at his annual fundraiser on May 9.
“It’s the greatest job in the world,” Strain said. “Everyone should want to be sheriff.” But he added that anyone who runs for the office will have to “convince (voters) that they can do it better.”
Smith clearly is trying to tap into the restive mood of St. Tammany voters. His announcement calls for more public accountability in all government agencies.
“I have the essential experience and commitment, and a proven record of managing a large law enforcement agency in a growing community,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “I will bring renewed professionalism, accountability and transparency to the Sheriff’s Office, giving the people of St. Tammany Parish another piece of the government they pay for and deserve.”
Smith said he wants more engagement with community leaders and organizations and hopes to create a stronger relationship with faith-based organizations.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.