Raising a statewide profile

As the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in a given county, the sheriff is often the go-to person in matters of crime. But out of the thousands of sheriffs across the county, few are well-known – perhaps the best example of a sheriff with name recognition is Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona.

Here in Wicomico County, though, Sheriff Mike Lewis has been known in the law enforcement community for a number of years as an expert and sought-after instructor in drug interdiction, allegedly so much so that smugglers take pains to avoid traveling through the county on U.S. 13, the preferred north-south alternative to Interstate 95 through Virginia and Maryland. Yet Lewis is also becoming more well-known to the public at large as a leader for Second Amendment rights, such as this speech last week (h/t Andrew Padula at Eyes for the Prize):

It’s worthy of noting all six Sheriffs represented there hail from the Eastern Shore. But the ringleader of the group is Lewis, and some may be wondering if he has his sights on a higher office.

Lewis was first elected Sheriff in 2006, defeating three other candidates in the Republican primary and handily dispatching Democrat Kirk Daugherty in the general election. Even though he wasn’t my initial choice, Mike has done a good enough job that no one bothered to challenge him in 2010 and he received the highest vote total of all those running. Nor is Lewis a stranger to the harsh glare of the spotlight after the abduction and murder of Sarah Foxwell made national headlines in December 2009.

But now he’s making waves for taking a stand for the Second Amendment, testifying against the effort of the state to dramatically restrict private ownership of certain weapons. The front page of the Wicomico Sheriff Department’s webpage makes this plain.

And while Lewis is quoted as noting, “I represent 100,000 people in this county and if (testifying and speaking at the protest) causes me to lose the next election than (sic) so be it,” the chances of him losing an election in this county for Sheriff reside in the neighborhood between slim and none, and slim is packing up for a move.

So the real question is whether this is a prelude to a higher office or not? Let’s face it: at the age of 48, Lewis could easily spend another two productive decades as the Wicomico County Sheriff if he wanted to. It’s doubtful Democrats would bother to put up a serious challenger to the popular incumbent, who succeeded longtime Sheriff Hunter Nelms after the latter’s 22 years in the post, mainly as a Democrat.

There’s always been a rumbling beneath the surface, though, that Lewis could be interested in a higher office, particularly County Executive. But it’s not unknown for law enforcement officers to become legislators either, as freshman Delegate Mike McDermott of Worcester County was a longtime member of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department. Lewis also happens to live in a newly created legislative district with no incumbent – the Democrats’ redistricting scheme placed current Delegate Norm Conway in a different single-member district and placed two Republican Delegates, Charles Otto and the aforementioned McDermott, in the same single-member district. So the new District 38C has no apparent favorite; however, the majority of its population lives in Worcester County. But in raising his profile, Lewis may be gaining name recognition there.

But could Lewis deal with the legislative grind? Certainly he has to remain popular with voters to keep his job, but barring a scandal of the sort which would equate to the old saw about being found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, Lewis should be able to hold on to his office for a couple decades and I think that’s where he will stay. His recent bully pulpit, though, has been quite useful in changing the narrative that law enforcement is behind restrictive gun control.

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