Outlining plans to start canvassing the county with campaign events and informal meetings, Lewis Blanchard officially kicked-off his bid Thursday night for the Columbia County Sheriff's race.
With supporters cheering and waving campaign signs over their heads, Blanchard spoke from a podium inside the Savannah Rapids Pavilion about his desire to revamp the sheriff's office.
"I want to bring quality, new leadership to the sheriff's office," he said. "We need new leadership. We need a new perspective."
Blanchard is challenging incumbent Sheriff Clay Whittle, who has help the post since April of 1995 after winning a special election for the late Sheriff Otis Hensley and was re-elected twice. Whittle has been working with the sheriff's office since 1984.
Blanchard, who now owns the Augusta-based corporate hospitality company Executive Marketing Services, worked as a reserve sergeant for the county sheriff's office as well as police and ambulance services in Hilton Head, S.C.
Blanchard also became the Columbia County School System's first public safety director in 1990.
The two candidates will square off July 20 at the county's Republican primary.
A major component of Blanchard's campaign message is attacking the growth of the sheriff's office budget under Whittle.
"The sheriff is supposed to be managing a budget to reflect the whatever-it-takes attitude to reduce crime," Blanchard said, "and yet our sheriff is allowing the budget to grow and for many frills to eat up public funds."
He said spending has significantly outpaced the county's population growth.
"We've grown a large bureaucracy to where we have one supervisor for every two deputies," Blanchard said.
Whittle, who has said he will campaign on the strength of his record, has pointed to a steady decline in a number of crime areas that the county has experienced despite its increase in new residents.
"Crime has gone down in certain areas, but not in all areas," Blanchard said Thursday night, pointing to what he said was an increasing problem of accessibility to narcotics in the county. "You need a sheriff that works for crime-reduction in all areas not just statistics for specific incidents."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.