With 15 candidates vying for four spots, there would have been little surprise if the primary race for the newly expanded Clackamas County Board of Commissioners turned ugly. Save for a few barbs, the campaigning for those seats has remained relatively issue-oriented, with the candidates highlighting their strengths, rather than their opponents weaknesses.

The race for the sheriff's office - featuring incumbent Craig Roberts, challenger Rick LaManna and fake candidate Josh Henningsen - is another story.

The race has been marred by formal complaints while proponents of the candidates have spent more time lobbing insults at each other than singing the praises of their own candidate.

The race got off on the wrong foot altogether, with LaManna's own campaign manager/landlord, Henningsen, entering the race to force a contested primary. The move seems to have backfired on LaManna, as its drawn much more attention to the ethics of his strategy and his address - he rented out an apartment from Henningsen with only a few days to spare to fulfill the election's residency requirement - than to his plans or policies.

The entire race has taken that path, forsaking a real discussion about ideas in favor of a series of pot shots. That's unfortunate, because there are critical issues that will face the sheriff's office in the years to come, and a serious debate about those issues would benefit the entire county.

As Clackamas County continues to grow, so will criminal activity in the area. With the loss of federal timber payments and a recession, there will be less money available to deal with crime. Public safety takes up the largest chunk of the county's budget, and thus far, it's been largely immune from cuts. But how long will that last? Construction prices are soaring, and will drive up the cost of a new jail. County road maintenance funds have dwindled, and commissioners are pinning the future of the county's libraries on a special district on the November ballot.

Those circumstances should lead to an informed debate about ways CCSO might be able to tighten its belt while still combating drug problems in the area. There should be a debate about how to go about building the new jail. There should be a discussion about how - if at all - the addition of officers to the state police force might allow CCSO to operate more efficiently. There should be a philosophical argument about the best way to deter crime - harsher sentences or increased rehabilitation.

Instead, the sheriff's race has been reduced to proponents of both candidates engaging in a relentlessly negative campaign that does little to further the debate about these critical issues. In a race with that kind of rhetoric, there are no winners.

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