The three-man race for Pinal County sheriff will be one man less following the Sept. 2 primary, guaranteeing the others a spot on November's general election ballot.
Current Sheriff Chris Vasquez will be going head-to-head with Jayme Valenzuela, Superior's vice mayor, for the Democrat position on the ballot. Republican Paul Babeu, a Chandler police officer, is running unopposed in the primary.
Former Pinal County Sheriff Roger Vanderpool appointed Vasquez to the sheriff's position in 2005 after Vanderpool accepted a position as head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Vasquez was elected to a full term in 2006.
Although he is not facing a primary opponent, Babeu is ahead in the money race. He has received about $45,550 in campaign contributions.
Among the Democrats, Vasquez leads with about $35,300, while Valenzuela has raised about $4,700, according to county election officials.
According to the Pinal County recorder's Web site, 48,330 people are registered as Democrats for the election, followed by 46,083 Republicans and 39,537 other voters, bringing the total to 133,950 voters as of Aug. 12.
Vasquez, 56, said the election will hinge on the record he has built during his three years as sheriff.
"Since I've been at the sheriff's office, I've had a very good track record of moving the department forward," Vasquez said.
Vasquez has spent 30 years in law enforcement, including 20 years at the Casa Grande Police Department.
Some of the accomplishments Vasquez touts include adding several dozen sworn positions, increasing block watch programs and adding two patrol substations in the booming Johnson Ranch and San Tan areas.
Vasquez said he will focus on three main areas if he is re-elected: youth crime, drugs and copper thefts.
Farmers are hit the hardest by copper thefts, sometimes becoming victims night after night, Vasquez said.
Vasquez also said he hopes to make improvements within the department, such as getting computer terminals in patrol cars and updating officers' equipment.
His time as the sheriff of Pinal County has not gone without controversy, however.
Vasquez has admitted to the Tribune that he copied and pasted some materials from several Web sites into his past newsletters.
More recently, the jail has come under scrutiny after a series of suicides. The suicide rate in the Pinal County jail is roughly twice the national average for county jails.
Valenzuela, 45, welcomes the challenge for the general election spot against Vasquez.
Valenzuela's top concern is tackling the issue of regional policing versus district policing, he said.
District policing is a better way for deputies to patrol because they cover a smaller area, such as Johnson Ranch or Superior, he said. Regional policing requires coverage in four large areas within the county, and in certain emergency situations, an officer may have to drive from Apache Junction to Superior to respond to a call. District policing will allow deputies to respond faster because they cover a smaller area, he said.
"When someone calls for a police officer, they need an officer right now, not 45 minutes later," he said.
Valenzuela has been involved with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office for 15 years as a deputy and in the civil, patrol and investigation divisions.
He said Vasquez bypassed people in his own department to hire from outside of Pinal County, which created tension and lowered morale in a way he did not see in his time at the department.
As vice mayor of Superior, one of Valenzuela's greatest accomplishments was helping to create a partnership with nearby copper mines to contribute money to the town's fund, he said.
If elected, Valenzuela wants to host quarterly town halls for Pinal County residents to voice their concerns.
His priorities include improving the equipment in the department and extending programs that Vasquez has not implemented in parts of the county, such as Silent Witness and block watch programs.
Babeu, 39, is assured a win in the primary since he is the only Republican running. It is his first race for elected office, he said.
Babeu moved from Massachusetts to Pinal County six years ago.
Babeu's main concern in the sheriff's office is the amount of basic training deputies receive and the equipment they are issued, he said.
"Even the basic training is not provided to our deputies," he said. "It's the basics of being a police officer. It tells everything of (Vasquez's) organization."
Babeu said that Vasquez has not trained his men in basic CPR and life-saving procedures, training that is important if sheriff's deputies are the first to arrive at the scene of a medical emergency.
Babeu is also concerned that most deputies' vehicles are not equipped with computers, creating a slower response time for emergency calls.
He wants to replace outdated equipment, such as bulletproof vests, some of which are 20 years old, he said.
Babeu is a Chandler police officer and has received two life-saving medals as well as a meritorious service medal.
Babeu said he will apply even standards for promotion of PCSO officers and address complaints made by deputies who say they have been overlooked for promotions in the past.