Sheriff’s deputy running for Bennington sheriff as Republican after losing Democratic primary

Joel Howard. Courtesy photo

A Bennington County sheriff candidate who lost the Democratic nomination is running as a Republican in the general election after winning that primary with write-in votes.

Joel Howard, a lieutenant in the local sheriff’s department, said he withdrew his petition Friday to run as an independent candidate in favor of the Republican nomination.

He received 463 Republican write-in votes, or 26% of the party’s primary votes, according to Bennington County’s official results of the Aug. 9 primary.  

Manchester police officer James Gulley – who clinched the Democratic nomination for sheriff – received the second most Republican write-ins, with 233 votes.

The men had a bigger gap in the Democratic race. Gulley got 2,255 votes to Howard’s 1,063, which translated into a 23-percentage-point difference in the three-person race.

When asked whether the Republican Party is a better fit for him considering his support for President Donald Trump in the 2020 elections, Howard said he preferred Trump over Democratic candidate Joe Biden but has realized Trump “was not the right choice.”

Howard, 49, said he has always considered himself a politically neutral person and believes the sheriff should rise above politics.

Howard earlier said he wasn’t sure about continuing in the race, seeing Gulley’s win as a sign voters wanted fresh leadership in the sheriff’s department. 

He’d said an election endorsement by the outgoing sheriff, Chad Schmidt, had hampered his viability because of the controversies surrounding Schmidt.

But on Friday, the sheriff’s deputy said he decided to move forward after receiving numerous messages of encouragement from local residents in the past week.

“Don’t give up. Get in there and fight,” Howard said people told him. He believes he has a chance of prevailing in the November election when considering the number of primary voters who didn’t pick a sheriff candidate and those who sat out the primary.

Gulley, 43, said he isn’t worried about Howard’s challenge, or that of Beau Alexander, who is running as an independent in the general election. Alexander, 38, a former probation and parole officer for the state Department of Corrections, finished second runner-up in the three-way Democratic contest.

“I feel that I am in a more comfortable position than Beau or Joel,” Gulley said Friday.

He views his Democratic primary win as people’s endorsement of his plans for the sheriff’s department, which include combating violent crimes and illicit drugs, and upholding fair and impartial policing practices.

When Gulley was asked whether he could work with Howard should he become sheriff, Gulley said he’ll welcome current sheriff’s deputies who support his mission. 

“They will still have a job, it just might not be in the position that they're in,” he said, explaining that his goal is “putting the right people in the right seats moving in the right direction.”

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Tiffany Tan

About Tiffany

Tiffany Tan is VTDigger's Southern Vermont reporter. Before joining VTDigger, she covered cops and courts for the Bennington Banner from 2018 to 2021. Prior to that, Tiffany worked for the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and spent more than 10 years working for newspapers and television stations in Manila, Singapore and Beijing.

Email: [email protected]

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