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Tarrant County Sheriff Fights To Keep His Badge For One More Term

Christopher Connelly/KERA
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson is seeking his fifth and, he says, final term. 

His challenger is former Dalworthington Gardens Police Chief Bill Waybourn, who is offering up what is possibly the sheriff’s toughest electoral challenge.

Anderson is probably best known for helping create the Amber Alert system to help find missing children. When the sheriff met his challenger for a debate at WFAA-TV, he pointed to a strong record of his own achievement. He's credited with bringing fiscal responsibility to the force and re-focusing the department on its core mission.

“There’s not been one scandal. There’s not been one negative headline,” Anderson said. “We run the department four, five million dollars under budget every single year; we return money to the taxpayers.”

Anderson has gotten an unexpected boost of publicity as he’s shown up on countless news segments to update the hungry media on the case of Ethan Couch, the so-called “affluenza teen" who was on probation for killing four people when he sparked an international manhunt by leaving the country in December.

Anderson said he’s not in the news for his own benefit -- he says this is the worst case he’s had to deal with in 16 years of being sheriff.

“I would love not to be here. I would love for this not to have happened,” Anderson said.  “I would give it all back if those four people hadn’t lost their lives. And there’s no way I’m not going to stay with it, stay on it, do everything I can to make sure justice is served. Because two years ago, justice wasn’t served.”

This is the second time that Waybourn has tried to unseat the sheriff. He’s amassed a sizable campaign war chest and a host of endorsements, including Chuck Norris and Rick Perry, two former Fort Worth police chiefs, as well as law enforcement associations for Fort Worth, Arlington and Tarrant County. Waybourn vows to bring bold leadership to the department, one that’s more focused on outreach to diverse communities.

“I’ve had relationships from the guy under the bridge to the governor’s office,” Waybourn said. “And it’s those types of relationships that are going to hit off in 2016 are issues of Ferguson’s or Baltimore. And leadership needs to be out there creating relationships.”

Waybourn also said he’d shift focus within the department to take a more active role in combatting terrorism.

“The FBI says that they’re overwhelmed, and local law enforcement is going to have to stand up and do it,” Waybourn said. It “makes sense to me that the sheriff should be gathering that intelligence. There’s plenty to do out there and it can be done with everyone’s constitutional rights and their privacy in place.”

Anderson called that naïve. He says running the police department in a small mid-cities suburb like Dalworthington Gardens is a far cry from being sheriff in a county of 2 million. He says that’s why he’s been endorsed by local officials, including county commissioners and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.

No Democrat is running, so the winner of the Republican primary will determine who will be sheriff.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.