Republican incumbent Jim Kaelin broke a long streak of Democratic sheriffs in Nueces County when he was elected to fill the unexpired term of former Sheriff Larry Olivarez in 2006, and he is now seeking to establish a new streak with his first full-term in office.
Kaelin, a Carroll High School graduate, joined the U.S. Army in 1959, and served for 9 years, including one tour in Vietnam. In 1968, he was discharged from the Army and accepted a position as deputy with the Nueces County Sheriff's Department, where he served for four years. During that time he received an associate's degree in police science from Del Mar College, and in 1972 he was accepted to the Department of Public Safety academy. He served in the DPS for 29 years, and retired in 2001 as a service commander in charge of training and safety.
Following former Nueces County Sheriff Larry Olivarez's announcement of his resignation to pursue the office of County Judge in 2006, Kaelin campaigned and was elected to fill Olivarez's unexpired term.
"That kind of set a historical precedent. Nueces County has always been solid Democratic," Kaelin said. "My campaign was that you don't elect a Republican or Democrat to be sheriff, you elect someone who is going to represent everybody."
Kaelin and his wife, Sharon, have been married for 32 years and have five children, including two sons who are also in law enforcement.
Kaelin said deciding to enter politics was "the hardest thing" he's done, because it opened he and his family to an often unpleasant world.
"After some deliberation and consideration, I decided that I think I have something I can contribute," Kaelin said. "It's probably the hardest thing I've done.
"Down here in South Texas, politics is like a blood sport."
Aside from the politics, the biggest obstacle he faced in his new position was initiating a department-wide change in attitude.
"We've had to change a culture that existed for a long, long time and a way of thinking that was outmoded and being micro-managed," Kaelin said. "I've surrounded myself with a really very capable team of managers who are the folks who get things done around here."
His proudest accomplishment of the past two years, Kaelin said, has been taking the county jail from a situation in which it lost its certification because of severe deficiencies to a place where it has now passed two state inspections.
"That was a major milestone, to come from where we had been when I was elected to getting the license current," Kaelin said. "Since then, we stood our second state inspection in April of this year, and we passed with no deficiencies."
The jail is now on a constant maintenance schedule, something Kaelin said was not in place in the past.
Among other accomplishments, Kaelin pointed to renegotiated contracts with the food vendors and with the commissary services that brought significant savings to the county.
Kaelin said the biggest challenges facing the department over the next four years are overcrowding in the jail and understaffing in his patrol division.
Kaelin said the existing jail, which holds 1,020 beds, was built in 1991, and the county has not added any space since that time.
"The city has grown tremendously since then, but we haven't increased any beds," Kaelin said. "How we manage this down, without increasing any beds is going to be a tremendous challenge for me."
On the roads, Kaelin said he currently only has 25 deputies to patrol the entire county.
"People judge us by response time. When they call, they don't want to wait 30 minutes for an officer," Kaelin said. "There's just a lot of rural road that we have to patrol."
Kaelin said he has been able to add a few deputies in the two years he has been in office, and he hopes to gradually add more over the next few years during each budget process.
When asked why voters should choose him over his opponent, Kaelin said what separates the two is experience.
"My opponent has three years in law enforcement and he has no law enforcement experience. He's been a correctional officer for three years," Kaelin said. "I've got 35 years, not only in law enforcement, but in supervision and in managing large budgets, where my opponent has no time managing budgets."