HANCOCK COUNTY — With a heated 2016 General Election barely in the rear-view mirror, hopefuls for one of the biggest local races of 2018 have started campaigning — 21 months before they would take office.
Community members can’t officially declare their candidacy until next January; but this week, two current members of the sheriff’s department launched their campaigns for the top job.
Brad Burkhart and Donnie Munden, both Republicans with 30 years’ experience with the local sheriff’s department, kicked off their campaigns for sheriff this week, putting political committees in place and establishing websites and Facebook pages to engage with community members.
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The pair — whose histories within local law enforcement all but mirror one another, with each having served in leadership positions including one term as No. 2 to the sheriff — say it’s never too early to get their names out and start spreading their visions for the office, which two-term Sheriff Mike Shepherd will vacate at year’s end when he retires.
In the coming weeks, Burkhart, Shepherd’s chief deputy, and Munden, a first-shift lieutenant, will start planning campaign events and fundraisers, they say — all in preparation for a primary race that won’t happen for another year.
The sheriff, who serves a four-year term, is tasked with overseeing the county’s largest law enforcement department, with a $2.5 million budget and a staff of more than 40 deputies, 30 jail officers, 20 reserve deputies and 10 civilian employees.
In Indiana, a sheriff can serve only two consecutive terms; and historically, every eight years in Hancock County sees an influx of candidates seeking the seat.
In 2006, seven local public safety officers vied for the seat.
County Clerk Marcia Moore was surprised to see candidates already announcing intentions to run. It’s so early in the season that the state’s election division hasn’t yet publicly confirmed certain 2018 filing and voting deadlines, she said.
Candidates typically take advantage of the community’s big events, like the Hancock County 4-H Fair and annual Riley Festival, to get their names out to voters ahead of the May primary, but those are months away, she said.
Other sheriff hopefuls are expected to declare in the coming months, but for now, Burkhart and Munden are the only candidates to kick off campaigns.
Burkhart is seeking political office for the first time; Munden lost to Shepherd when Shepherd bid for re-election in 2014.
Both are lifelong residents of Hancock County and have worked their whole careers in the local sheriff’s department.
Munden graduated from Eastern Hancock High School in 1984; Burkhart graduated from Greenfield-Central High School the same year. Both were members of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Explorers program in their youth, and both went on to earn degrees in law enforcement from Vincennes University.
Munden and Burkhart both started their careers working in the Hancock County Jail before becoming road deputies; Munden was promoted in 1989, and Burkhart followed a year later.
Over the next 25 years, they each worked their way up the department’s ranks, serving in supervisory roles before serving as the sheriff’s chief deputy. Munden served as No. 2 for former Sheriff Bud Gray and was acting sheriff for the last four months of Gray’s term before Gray retired.
He now oversees nine first-shift road patrol deputies.
As Shepherd’s chief deputy, Burkhart represents the department at county meetings and oversees the command staff, including the jail commander, road patrol supervisor and head of the investigations unit.
As Munden and Burkhart prepare to face off in the primary election in May 2018, they’ll crisscross the county touting those long careers while establishing their vision for the future. Drug enforcement, they say, will continue to be a top priority.
Burkhart said he hopes to build on the leadership of Shepherd, with whom he’s worked side by side every day for the last six years. There are programs, particularly concerning drug enforcement, that he plans to expand if he’s chosen to take office.
Munden, too, wants to see drug enforcement improve and admits his stance on the situation has changed a bit since his last campaign. In the past, he advocated for longer sentences for drug crimes but now believes treatment needs to be a priority for some offenders, he said.