SARITA, Texas — The sole contested race in Kenedy County has left the Democrat incumbent Ramon “Ray” Salinas III, incumbent the victor in a 121-86 vote.
Salinas has been sheriff since 2005. He defeated Kingsville police officer Lonnie Allen Brown, who was vying for a chance to lead, with plans to amp up the department's patrol unit.
"The people have spoken. They trust me. They trust what I’ve done," Salinas said. "They trust what we’ve done. I couldn’t do all this without our great commissioners or our county judge. I mean this is just what we do. We’ve been doing this for a while and the only thing we can do now is move forward. And just try to get better every day.”
Salinas, who lives within the community of Sarita, said he began his career in policing as a reserve deputy for Kleberg County. In 1996, he started as a patrol officer in Kenedy County. That continued on for eight years until he was elected.
Today, including himself, Salinas said there are 10 certified police officers within the Kenedy County Sheriff's Office.
"I believe I would be a better candidate because I know these people," Salinas said. "I’ve literally watched their kids grow up, I mean, I’ve raised six kids of my own here in Kenedy County. These people know me, They know what I expect, I do what they expect... They respect who I am — I respect who they are. And we’re going to continue what we’ve been doing. I mean — if it wasn’t working — I wouldn’t be here."
Salinas has received $500 in campaign contributions — although he said that money was unexpected. The sheriff said he hasn't been campaigning and that the sign he has in front of Sarita has been used many times before.
On the other hand, Brown said he’s raised roughly $5,000 for his campaign, with about half of those expenses going to mailers and some signage. Still, he said the pandemic has made it difficult for his name to get out to the community.
Republican challenger Lonnie Allen Brown, lives on Armstrong Ranch, a rural area in the center of Kenedy County. Brown also has been a law enforcement officer for 24 years. He has previously served as sheriff for San Saba County. Currently, he is a police officer with the Kingsville Police Department. This November marks nine years, he said.
In a written statement Tuesday night, Brown said he was proud of his campaign.
"I want to thank everyone who came out to vote here in Kenedy County tonight,"Brown said. "I especially want to thank everyone who worked so hard on our campaign team, both friends and family. Your hard work and dedication means the world to me, my wife and my family. I’m very proud of our campaign. We ran a straight up honest campaign with out slinging mud or reverting to the race card. We came up a little short this time, but I believe we showed that there is a push here in Kenedy County for change and change takes time but at least it’s underway."
Brown said a critical element of his campaign is letting voters know that a sheriff is supposed to be a working part of the community.
“Not someone you have to go look for to sign papers, not someone who doesn’t work nights or doesn’t work weekends,” Brown said. “A sheriff is supposed to be just like you, working 40 hours a week, taking care of the people of this community and being out in front cell that he knows what problems are coming and he’s ready for them.”
Both candidates boast a large campaign sign in front of Sarita Elementary.
Brown said the sheriff needed to be on top of paperwork and grants and that papers need to be served legally and grants need to be completely timely. As sheriff, he would make sure to do these things correctly.
Brown said he will make adjustments to the number of patrol officers at night, as well as work toward providing more training for deputies if elected.
“Well my first job would be able to build back up a police unit with the department and to get everybody functioning on the same page,” Brown said. “More training, more schools for the deputies that are actually working here. I’d like to see the sheriff, which — I’m hoping I get elected — I’ll be more involved. I will be in Commissioners Court personally. I will be in the school board meetings, I’ll be at the cog meetings. I will be out in front of things where you’re supposed to be when you’re sheriff.”
The sheriff disputes claims that there aren't deputies patrolling at night.
"We have officers 24/7 here," Salinas said. "For someone to say that we — if he gets elected — he’s going to have people working at night. Ask anybody here in town, and they all see officers at night. (When) people are barbecuing, they stop my officers to go and eat with him, and it’s just the way it is here. That’s life here. Our budget is not that big and our officers are staggered. There’s times when there’s officers by themselves, there’s one man per unit for the whole county, which is — I don’t think it’s very safe, but we got to do what we got to do. Guys work nights and if they need help I’m the first one they call because I live here in town to back them up. That’s just the way it is."
Salinas said one accomplishment he is proud of was a joint effort between him, his staff and county leaders when he was able to establish 24/7 dispatchers within Kenedy County just months after he was elected in 2005. Since he started, Salinas said things have changed for the better.
"The crime rate is practically zero here," Salinas said, later clarifying that he was specifically talking about the town of Sarita. "After a certain time, these people just turn their radios down because they respect everybody. Not the way it was when I was a patrol officer here. It’s just a better environment."
Salinas explained further, saying Kennedy County, is 90% ranch-owned.
"The hub is Sarita," he said. " Our traffic is on the highway with transients, smugglers, illegal aliens that we have to deal with. And yes, we deal with the people here, but it’s not, it’s nothing major. I just go talk to them if they have a problem with somebody else and we figure it out. They get with the neighbor and they are fine again. It’s just the way it is. It’s not like a big city, it’s not, It’s a unique place here, It’s a great place to raise families."
Brown said he would work to increase the number of arrests within the county without focusing on from a nearby border checkpoint while still working with other law enforcement groups.
“We’re working with Border Control l, we’re working with DPS on operations,” he said. “By doing that, then I’ll be able to look at higher salaries, maybe down the road, but right now we just got to build a functioning team that’s actually serving the community of Kenedy County.”
Salinas said he wants voters within the county to know that he will continue working for his community.
"My doors are always open, not just at my office, but at my home," Salinas said. "People come to my house all hours of the night because they know they can. I’m right in the center of town and I’m always available. I’ll continue doing the best job I can to protect them, their families and our community."
Brown is also a volunteer firefighter who serves on the Kenedy County Emergency Service District 1 Board. He said he's eager to be a dependable leader.
"I love being. A part of this community," Brown said. "I’m looking forward to — if I’m elected — being deeply involved in schools with programs. I’ve had success where I came from before, there were three school systems — I handled all three schools personally — with my other duties. Here, we have one beautiful little elementary school and I am looking forward to just burying myself into that school."
In 2019, Brown was one of many police officers who found themselves at the tail-end of a Daily Mail article that brought to light instances of police officers sharing racist, anti-Muslim messages on social media.
Brown has since disputed those claims, tacking it up to a last-minute smear campaign that is “unfounded and untrue.”
“I’m not anti-Muslim, I’m positive American,” Brown said. “I am one of those people that, if you are a Muslim, and you are an American citizen — you’re an American. I don’t have a use for people who believe in ISIS and who believe in death to America and death to people who are Christians, no I have no use for that. But I am not against Muslims, no.”
According to the Texas Secretary of State’s website, in Kenedy County there were a total of 318 registered voters in 2016. There was a 58.49 percent voter turnout — 186 total votes in total were cast.