Oct. 17—CHEYENNE — Laramie County resident James Barth has entered the sheriff's race with the goal of bringing a fresh perspective and a constitutional conservative mindset to the job.
In January, Barth said he was approached by ranchers and small business owners in the county who suggested he run for sheriff. These county residents said they had not felt well-represented by the sheriff's office for several years.
The more people he talked with and the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to Barth that running for sheriff could be a good fit, he said. He first began posting on his campaign website over the summer and created a Facebook page earlier this month.
Barth has lived in Laramie County for close to nine years, calling it "the best place I've ever lived in my entire life."
"I love it here," he said.
In his earlier days, Barth served in the military and the Georgia National Guard, eventually becoming a POST-certified law enforcement chaplain and working for the sheriff's office in Monroe County, Georgia. He worked with both patrol and jail deputies, and was a "leaning post" for them during and after difficult situations.
Though he didn't have arrest authority, Barth pointed out that he still carried a gun as a chaplain, being just as much of a target as the deputies he worked alongside.
The main thing that guides his life, he said, is his Christian faith.
"Not that I was there (as a chaplain) to hit anybody over the head with the Bible or anything — it was to work with them, and they knew they had somebody that they could always rely on," he said.
Almost every night, Barth and his wife, Terri, opened their home to area law enforcement, sharing dinner and coffee.
Barth went on to serve as a chaplain for Georgia's Department of Homeland Security, the Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Currently, Barth works in the information security industry, leading a team of experts that train people within the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Defense and other agencies within the U.S. government.
The people that asked Barth to run "know that I'm a leader of people, and they feel — as do I — that I can make a lot of changes, and for the better."
Barth's most prominent opponents are current Laramie County Detention Capt. Don Hollingshead, who has been with the sheriff's office for more than 25 years, and former Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak who, with more than a decade on the job, was the longest-tenured chief in department history.
When asked what sets him apart, Barth said Hollingshead and Kozak had plenty of time to address the complaints he's heard about the way the sheriff's office operates. He said several deputies have told him that morale is low within the sheriff's office, and that they quickly lose good employees to higher-paying jobs in Nebraska and Colorado.
If he were elected sheriff, Barth said his focus would be on finding ways to rebuild a team spirit among sheriff's office employees, along with carefully reviewing the budget to find a way to boost pay.
He would also work to put deputies in satellite offices in places like Albin, Burns, Carpenter and Pine Bluffs, to ensure these county residents feel the presence of the sheriff's office. He said he's also put together a plan to reduce recidivism.
"There's so much to be done," Barth said. "But first it has to start at the foundation, and that's rebuilding the morale and the teamwork within the sheriff's office."
Barth said he's a "people person" who understands the value of community and, living alongside ranchers, understands their needs and how to represent those who live in more rural areas of the county.
Although Barth said he believes sheriff shouldn't be a partisan position, he described himself as a constitutional conservative who believes in limited government and preserving things like property rights and other personal freedoms. He referred to the mission of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and said he'd want to be a sheriff like its founder, Richard Mack, or like Mark Lamb, a sheriff in Pinal County, Arizona. Mack is also associated with the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group, and was on its board of directors.
Among the guiding principles of the CSPOA is encouraging law enforcement to refuse to enforce mandates or laws they believe violate the Constitution, and that the power of the sheriff supersedes federal and state powers.
If elected, Barth said he would absolutely enforce laws, but he would not enforce things like mask mandates because a mandate is not a law, and he said Wyoming law doesn't back up the enforcement of mandates.
In a few instances on Barth's website, he uses the phrase "take back our rights" or "take back our country." When asked what rights he felt needed to be taken back, Barth seemed to rethink the phrase, saying he doesn't want people to view him as a "militia nut" or something similar. He again emphasized the protection and retention of constitutional rights as central to his beliefs and platform.
Specifically, Barth expressed his opposition to the federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate, and to the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees limiting comments from the public to three minutes each during meetings.
"People got to basically stand up and say 'No more,'" he said. "And I'm not saying to start a revolution — I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is to vote these people out and get back your voice."
Barth said he doesn't like the divide of "Republican" and "Democrat" — he grew up in Michigan with parents who were working-class Democrats — and writes on his website that he believes there is "no Democrat or Republican way to be a sheriff."
"The enemy is not the opposing party; the enemy is the criminal, and lately the overreach of the federal government," Barth wrote.
Elsewhere on the same page, though, he seems to blame those he calls liberals and RINOs, or "Republicans in name only," for increases in crime in Georgia and attempting to take away certain freedoms.
"We had seen that in the 20 years we were there that the left largely took over Georgia, and crime went sky high, such as drug trafficking, armed robbery, carjacking and the list goes on. (You know all the terrible things that go along with liberals.)," he wrote, adding that he is a disabled veteran and that serving his country "really made me appreciate our freedoms that the liberals and RINOs (want) to steal from all of us."
He also writes that his father's involvement in a union "was where I first started seeing the reaches of communism and how they control people and the very fabric of our country."
Still, while being interviewed, Barth said he believes there are good people on both sides of the country's left-right divide.
"We're all human, and I just want to be able to pull everybody together because all this hate has to stop," he said.
Hannah Black is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahcblack.