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Our view: El Paso County sheriff

On one particular issue, Maketa and Shirk have the same philosophy, like it or not


Month after month in 2010, the El Paso County sheriff's race has produced headlines, controversy, intense emotions and unexpected twists.

Why stop now?

The year began with Sheriff Terry Maketa announcing he wouldn't run for a third and last term, followed by former Sheriff's Office Lt. Todd Evans and Monument Police Chief Jake Shirk jumping into the mix. Within a month, Maketa was back in the race, with Evans pulling out to focus on serious health issues.

Maketa and Shirk have waged a spirited campaign, with the incumbent relying on his seven-plus years of accomplishments and the challenger focusing on two areas of perceived weakness — conduct by Maketa's staff and the need to beef up the number of deputies who patrol the county's 1,600 square miles of unincorporated areas.

We commend Shirk's effort to highlight the deputy issue, and his ability to win over some Republican leaders, to whom he was an unknown before announcing his candidacy. And we believe that when it comes to the nuts and bolts of law enforcement, he, like Maketa, could do a commendable job as sheriff over the next four years.

When Shirk outlined his philosophy to the Independent, though, we became concerned about his core beliefs. He's fine with requiring no background checks or restrictions whatsoever for gun ownership. None. Shirk doesn't mind if every Tom, Dick and Mary want to carry AK-47 assault rifles into parks, supermarkets and public buildings.

Shirk openly identifies with the tea party and is very old-school regarding the so-called war on drugs, saying that medical marijuana is "out of control" in Colorado. He also embraces the Arizona immigration law.

During their debate Tuesday at Penrose Library, the immigration law resurfaced, and for the first time, we got to hear Maketa's stance.

The sheriff called Arizona's legislation "an excellent law." He said that state's "citizens have spoken" and their choice was to "empower local law enforcement." He labeled as a "myth" the concern that it would create racial profiling, adding a sarcastic, "I don't buy that." He said if people are worried about being arrested or detained, "they shouldn't have been here in the first place."

Maketa didn't stop there, insisting that he planned to work with state legislators from this area to draft a similar law for Colorado.

Shirk was quick to agree fully, echoing his previous statements to the Indy and adding that "those people don't need to be here."

The two candidates choose to ignore other consequences. For instance, if the Arizona law is allowed to stand, all of that state's 2 million Hispanics who are U.S. citizens — two-thirds of them born in America — will have to live in fear of being detained, harassed and otherwise mistreated. They'll have to carry their own documentation wherever they go. And if they lose their documents, heaven help them.

There is simply no way we can advise voters to choose someone whose beliefs run so opposite to the basic ideals we stand for at the Independent. These two candidates have their strengths, and both claim to be tolerant, but their views scream otherwise. To us, the Arizona law is divisive, un-American and racist, no matter how much its supporters might argue otherwise.

That trumps the good points for both candidates, who seem determined to use their political clout in ill-advised ways on this issue. Depending on how far Colorado takes immigration reform (in other words, who becomes the next governor and which party reigns in the Legislature), it's possible to see Maketa or Shirk becoming another embarrassment for the Colorado Springs area.

Since what happens on Aug. 10 almost certainly will determine our next sheriff — only an obscure independent, John "Doc" Holiday, stands in the way for the general election — we had wanted to take a clear stand on this race. But we cannot in good conscience endorse or even recommend, now or in November, any candidate whose view is so diametrically opposed to ours on such a basic human-rights issue.

Given his status as the incumbent, and the successes he's had in expanding the jail, opening detox and reducing most types of crime during tight budgetary times, Maketa has to be considered the favorite. If he wins a final term, he must run a tighter ship in his final four years, or the embarrassing issues that have nagged him during this race will continue to haunt his department and our community.

But no matter who wins, we will steadfastly oppose any action by the El Paso County sheriff that would bring Arizona's racist mistake to Colorado.

Recommendation: None.

Cash and carry?

By Pam Zubeck

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