Jefferson County Sheriff candidates Marc Heckathorn and Jason Pollock met for what's likely to be the only debate between the two at the Jefferson County Community Center on April 18. Questions ranged from matters of policy to the several controversies that arose over the course of the campaigns.
Jefferson County Commissioners interviewed both candidates to replace outgoing sheriff Jim Adkins in 2021 and chose Heckathorn, who assumed office in July 2021. Heckathorn's worked at the Sheriff's Office for 23 years in a several different positions, most recently as undersheriff.
Pollock's held both patrol and detective positions with the Sheriff's Office for the past 11 years and is the sitting president of the department's union.
A third candidate is on the books as well, Rick DuPont, though he has no intention of being sheriff. DuPont supports Heckathorn, who submitted DuPont's candidate forms and paid the $50 filing fee to get DuPont in the race. With three candidates in the race, only one needs to get above 50% of the vote to win the race.
Heckathorn said it's a deliberate campaign strategy to get the race over with as soon as possible so that the sheriff's office can return to normal without the potential change in direction that would occur under a different administration.
"This decision could cost me because I've had to defend myself and my reputation for going ahead and making this decision," Heckathorn told the Source Weekly. "I did it as a campaign strategy more than anything else, it wasn't to take away votes. It was simply to allow this process to be completed, because I believe one of us will get more than 50% this May 17, and this election will be over as a result. That's good for me. It's good for Jason, it's good for our community, and it's good for Jefferson County, ultimately."
The debate at times became personal. Pollock was demoted from detective to patrol deputy shortly after Heckathorn's appointment. Pollock claims that he's long been held back from promotions in the department since both he and his opponent have ambitions to be sheriff.
"I believe that over time, I've been put in a position not to succeed because my opponent wants to be sheriff as well. And so that's the uphill battle that I have faced since I've been with the sheriff's office," Pollock said, responding to a debate question about his lack of management experience.
“It's not worth getting this community upset with each other, it's not worth for me and my opponent who both work at the same office.”—Marc Heckathorn
Heckathorn countered by saying he's not allowed to speak about Pollock's prior performance unless Pollock signs a release form, something he's refused to do. Heckathorn released his personnel files to the media on April 11, which contained no formal disciplinary actions. Pollock told the Source that as a patrol deputy he's more likely to have complaints than Heckathorn, who's served in management positions since reaching the rank of Sergeant in 2001.
"He's been an administrator his entire career. I have been mostly in patrol; I've been a detective, I've been a corporal. Anybody that's ever been in law enforcement, if you work the road, and you've responded to 10,000-plus calls in your career, there's going to be complaints, there's going to be things that go into your personnel file," Pollock said. "You have to deal with it because that's the nature of the beast."
Both candidates have spoken to People's Rights, a right-wing anti-government group formed by Ammon Bundy, though Pollock speaks more favorably of the group. He said he's not a member of People's Rights, but does share some of the same values, like an opposition to mask and vaccine mandates.
"I think they are made up of community members, community members that have great concern as to which direction our country is going. They value the Constitution, I value the Constitution, the whole thing, not just the Second Amendment. And the reality of it is, is they're willing to reach out to me and listen to me and hear what I have to say, and support me, they're community members just like everybody else," Pollock said during the debate.
Heckathorn is more critical of the group, saying their demands were unreasonable when he met with them in October of 2021.
"They wanted me to declare Jefferson County a sanctuary county for the state of Oregon, that no Governor mandates could possibly be enforced in this county. There are 35 other sheriffs in Oregon. Not one of them made that same declaration and that upset some people in that group," Heckathorn said. "I'm not making those kinds of promises, because I don't think I can do those kinds of things."
The election will take place on May 17, after which one of the candidates will assume office. That day will put an end to what's evidently become extremely divisive both in the sheriff's office and the community, with both parties claiming the others have spread or ignored false claims about the other.
"I'm trying to really not focus on negativity," Heckathorn said. "It's not worth getting this community upset with each other; it's not worth for me and my opponent who both work at the same office."
In the unlikely event that no candidate gets 50% of the vote, the top two will advance to the November election.