Gonzalo Gonzalez says he's a "corny" guy.
"I believe in God and country," said the candidate for Racine County Sheriff. "It's corny, but it's what I believe."
Gonzalez has built his campaign around these types of wholesome statements. An ex-Marine, he believes in leadership, efficient use of resources and clear communication with staff and community leaders. There's not much sizzle to his talking points, but they're delivered with conviction.
Gonzalez spoke on a handful of key issues facing the next sheriff:
Joint Dispatch - Gonzalez said it's time joint dispatch is finalized. A combined system would save money and improve service. For example, all 911 cell phone calls are routed to the county, then transferred to the responsible municipality before police or fire can be alerted. A joint-dispatch system would remove a step for cell phone calls. "There's never been the will to get this done," Gonzalez said. "I'd make sure this gets pushed through."
Jail rentals - The County Jail needs to rent out its extra beds, Gonzalez said. The county lost a contract with the state Department of Corrections to house inmates, and failed to land a contract with the federal government's Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Gonzalez said rebuilding relationships with the state and federal governments would be a priority. "We have unrented jail beds that have to be rented to generate income," he said.
Communication - Gonzalez said one of the sheriff's key jobs is to clearly communicate with state and local government leaders. If elected, he said he would create a vision for the department and work through the chain of command to implement that vision. He said he also would meet with the area police chiefs to discuss local law enforcement issues, and with local government leaders to discuss how the Sheriff's Department can help their communities.
On a personal level, Gonzalez comes across as a humble, sincere candidate who seems surprised anyone is supporting his candidacy. "There is genuine support out there," he said. "That's a part I never expected."
Gonzalez has lived in Racine County for 34 years. His father worked for Case Corp. and was transferred from South America to Racine. Gonzalez attended Horlick High School, but graduated at 17 years old from Gateway Technical College and enrolled early in the Marines. He served four years in the corps and then returned to Racine County where he was hired on by the Sheriff's Department. He's worked the last 27 years in a variety of jobs. He's now a sergeant in the Racine County Jail.
Gonzalez is running for sheriff as a Republican, which is how he was raised by his parents. "I identify as a conservative," he said. "My Mom and Dad brought me up with those values. You earn what you have. Northing is free. I'm a Christian and live a life of faith."
He's one of three Republicans running for sheriff this fall. Racine County Sheriff's Department Inv. Chris Schmaling and Ron Molnar are also running in the Sept. 14 primary election. The winner will advance to face Democrat Joseph Buckley and Independent Jeffrey Gerrietts in the general election.
The sheriff's race is too close to call. Gonzalez appears to have strong support east of Interstate 94 and is running something of a historic campaign. If elected, he'd by the first Hispanic candidate elected to countywide office in Racine County. Gonzalez isn't playing up this issue.
"It occasionally comes up," he said. "I don't dwell on my cultural heritage. I've always thought of myself as an American."
Schmaling is running an aggressive campaign and has secured a number of endorsements from local law enforcement officials. He and Gonzalez mixed it up a few weeks back when Schmaling sent a letter to supporters saying Gonzalez was "tucked away" in the jail. Gonzalez wrote a lengthy response saying jail staff had frequent contact with the public, and noting the jail was the largest department within the Sheriff's Department.
County Board Supervisor Ron Molnar is the third candidate running as a Republican. He's backed by County Executive Bill McReynolds and made news by stopping a burglary in his garage, saying he'd take a 10 percent pay cut as sheriff and that he'd expect inmates to perform community service while incarcerated.
In the final weeks leading up to the primary election Gonzalez said he hopes the three candidates can run a clean campaign that's focused on issues.
"Let's stack up qualifications side-by-side," Gonzalez said "Let's step away from innuendo."
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