Tight race to become next Santa Clara County sheriff

Tuesday night, two men, whose last names are separated by one vowel, are separated by several thousand votes in the race to be the next elected sheriff in Santa Clara County. Both seemed optimistic after the polls closed.

Bob Jonsen attended a gathering of like-minded supporters at a downtown Mountain View restaurant. He believed fresh blood from outside the Sheriff’s Office is needed to reform the beleaguered agency.

Since 2015, there have been multiple in-custody deaths at the jail, two jail escapes. And former Sheriff Laurie Smith retired under a cloud of suspicion, and a grand jury guilty verdict for corruption in office has tarnished the law agency.

Jonsen touted his decades of experience as an outsider coming into organizations to create change, first as chief in Menlo Park, and then as Palo Alto’s chief.

"I’m aware of the complexity. I’m aware of the challenges. I know how to navigate through those challenges. And again, take a organization to where the community wants them to be for them, for that place of service. And that’s what I intend to do," said Jonsen.

Kevin Jensen is a retired sheriff’s captain who said he’s been fighting to reform his own office, since before he first ran against former Sheriff Laurie Smith in 2014. He said he has knowledge of all the departments within, but is not linked with the current corruption scandal.

"I have the faith and the trust of all law enforcement. Including 97% of all law enforcement. So I think insider is a misnomer. Do I know the department better than anyone else? Yes. Did I go along with that corruption and mismanagement? No I did not. And I called it out courageously," said Jensen.

SEE ALSO: 'No one is above the law': Former sheriff found guilty of corruption, misconduct

Political analyst say a fickle electorate is torn between wanting reform, but unsure if it’s better to get their goal by bringing in leadership from outside, or relying on someone with intimate knowledge of the problems.

"I think there are challenges to both and insider and an outsider who’s coming in and trying to create change. It can help, as an insider, to have the support of the staff," said Dr. Melinda Jackson, a San Jose State University political scientist. "Sometimes having someone who’s more willing to ruffle some feathers…can also be more effective."