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Lea sheriff announces re-election bid

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Lest there be a doubt, Lea County Sheriff Corey Helton plans to run for re-election next year.

After posting his plans on social media, Helton explained he had heard of a rumor to the contrary.

“I thought I would quash that rumor,” Helton told the News-Sun, recognizing his office won’t be on the ballot until next June for the primary and November 2022 for the general election. “We’re a long way out, but I wanted people to know I’m going to run again.”

After 22 years of law enforcement in various capacities, Helton won the Republican primary election in 2018, immediately receiving Lea County Commission appointment to complete the last seven months of the term of deceased Sheriff Steve Ackerman, who died earlier that year in a traffic accident.

With no opposition in the 2018 General Election, Helton took the oath of office in January 2019. His term ends Dec. 31, 2022, but two consecutive four-year terms are permitted in New Mexico.

“We have a lot of work to get done. We’ve accomplished a lot, but we still have a lot more to accomplish,” Helton said. “What we’re seeing across the country with different ideologies and theories, we’re sure blessed to live in Lea County where we’re appreciated. That makes the difference.”

Among his accomplishments in the two years he has served as sheriff, Helton listed doubling the size of the sheriff’s office and increasing salaries to ensure competitiveness.

“We brought the salaries up on working deputies to where we’re competitive not only in the State of New Mexico, but across the country,” Helton said. “We brought their salaries up 30 percent. That’s not an easy thing to do, but we justified it and got that done.”

Expanding the force from 40 to 80 deputies added to the quality of public service the sheriff could accomplish.

“We’ve increased our investigative division by several investigators and provided them with state-of-the-art equipment to process a scene,” Helton said. “We can process fingerprint evidence, now, that we couldn’t do before.”

The sheriff also established an official sheriff’s posse.

“We have the first ever reserve deputy academy going on right now, that will graduate July 31, and created a robust sheriff’s posse with an external executive board,” Helton said.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office is preparing to receive state accreditation, “which standardizes the way we do things across the country,” Helton said.

For the future, the sheriff hopes to modernize equipment inside patrol units “where we can print tickets and scan licenses from each patrol car,” Helton said. “We’re looking at license plate readers to go out into the oilfield to help with the oilfield theft (investigations).”

Helton fought back against gun control legislation early in his first term, at one point asserting he would rather go to jail himself than enforce what he believed were unconstitutional laws. He continues to express disillusionment over some legislation.

“I’m very discouraged with some of the legislation that recently passed, specifically (House Bill) 4, which has already starting to devastate counties with the insurance premiums going up and insurance companies dropping law enforcement,” Helton said. “What frustrates me is they knew this was going to happen and it’s happening.”

HB 4, the so-called New Mexico Civil Rights Act, eliminated a long-standing law enforcement defense called qualified immunity in civil rights cases and increased the cap on the amount of money a complainant can be awarded.

“We may see law enforcement agencies closing their doors because there’s no insurance company that wants to come,” Helton said. “The fact that you have the speaker of the House that co-sponsored this bill stands to profit from it, these kinds of things go unchecked and nothing ever happens.”

Helton is a member of the executive board of the Western States Sheriff’s Association.

“In two years, I’ll be chairman of the Western States, which encompasses all 17 western states west of the Mississippi,” the Lea County sheriff said. “We have a little over 400 sheriffs membership in this association, so it’s quite an honor to be a part of that organization, but it’s an even greater honor to be an executive board member.”

Helton believes protecting constitutional rights for citizens and the lives of law officers will remain an ongoing struggle.

“I think there are a lot more battles coming, I really do, especially towards law enforcement,” Helton said. “It’s frustrating to know that’s what the legislators of New Mexico feel. In my heart, I don’t think 90 percent of the citizens of New Mexico really like what’s going on but I don’t know how to change that but going to the polls to vote.”

The polls also are where he hopes Lea County voters will go next year to support his re-election.

“I hope the people give me another four years. I love being the sheriff, helping the people, being around the deputies every day,” Helton concluded, “I don’t care much for the politics, but somebody’s got to fight. I think we did the right thing with the choices I made, and I don’t think we’re done.”

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