sheriff debate
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel hugs and bumps bellies with his 2016 opponent, Rep. Mike Christian (R-OKC) before their Tuesday, Sept. 15, debate. (Tres Savage)

At an Oklahoma County Sheriff’s candidate debate today that featured about as many free pizzas as audience members, Republican challenger Mike Christian aggressively criticized Democrat incumbent John Whetsel.

“I’m surprised he’s not wearing a red coat today — King George,” Christian said while answering “no” on whether he would support a tax increase for a new Oklahoma County Jail. “He’s more concerned about his rolling billboards running around for his re-election than running the jail.”

Christian, who spoke in short, quick bursts that were occasionally indecipherable, criticized Whetsel for a federal audit’s negative analysis of the jail.

“The federal government needs to get the hell out of Oklahoma County,” Christian’s voice boomed. “Keep the feds from coming in. Keep the red coats from coming in. King George needs to retire.”

In reply, Whetsel avoided stating whether he supports a tax increase for building a new jail, but he did explain his past support for a new building.

“Each one of those four studies has come back with a recommendation that a new jail needs to be built — that it’s not cost effective (to keep operating this jail),” he said.

Whetsel spoke slowly and calmly, focusing on public safety and his crime-prevention efforts since first taking office in 1997. Whetsel offered his first criticism of Christian nearly 30 minutes into the debate. It regarded a legislative bill that Christian had voted for and that Whetsel blamed for a cost issue.

“See? Deflection. Blame the Oklahoma Legislature,” Christian smirked in retort while pointing at his opponent. “Does he really need 300 vehicles that cost maintenance? Do we really need paper records? Why do we need horses? A team of horses! Who the hell does he think he is? Wyatt Earp?”

pizzas at sheriff debate
Pizzas were bountiful at the Oklahoma County Sheriff debate Tuesday, Sept. 15. (William W. Savage III)

Christian throws kitchen sink, Whetsel tells tale of loss

Sponsored by the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Tuesday’s debate was moderated by OKC attorney Billy Coyle.

Christian went on the attack early and often, blaming Whetsel for jail deaths, jail overcrowding, potential financial mismanagement and more. At times, all he lacked was the proverbial kitchen sink.

“They have to deal with these turds out here on the highway,” Christian said of other law enforcement agency officers, “but they feel unsafe when they walk in the county jail! And who’s responsible? My opponent!”

After the event, Whetsel declined to respond directly to Christian’s charges.

“I thought there were good questions. Like I said, I chose not to go into the misinformation, the accusations, some outright lies that he was spouting,” Whetsel said. “We were here to address 10 questions, and that’s what I did.”

Asked whether he intended to come out aggressive from the debate’s beginning, Christian said, “Why not? I’m pretty passionate about this.”

Whetsel proved he can be passionate too, however, referencing a personal tragedy that shaped his law-enforcement life greatly.

“I lost my first wife and a 2-year-old daughter in a traffic crash,” Whetsel said. “I am a traffic-safety advocate. I am going to do everything I can so that some family doesn’t have to go through the same thing I have.”

Christian expressed remorse for Whetsel’s personal tragedy, but he parried back with questions about the “Tower of Terror” as he referred to the jail.

While Whetsel did not address Christian’s jail criticisms, he did use his closing remarks to paint his opponent’s earlier equine remarks as insensitive and out of touch.

“I thought it was interesting today that my opponent could do nothing but attack,” Whetsel said in closing. “He even attacked reserve deputies who own horses — their own horses. They volunteer their time. They volunteer their horses to serve the citizens of Oklahoma County.

“They work the State Fair, they work the Stockyards. He just attacked men and women who went through a training program and serve our citizens for free.”

Video from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s debate