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Polk County GOP candidates square off on drugs, schools, other issues

COLUMBUS — Local drug crime and protecting students were among the many topics of debate between two of the candidates vying for sheriff during a forum hosted by the Polk County Republican Party Monday evening. 

Tim Wright

Retired North Carolina Highway Patrol officer Darryl Bailey and Tryon Police Department Capt. Tim Wright, the two men running for the GOP nomination in the upcoming Polk County sheriff race, answered a wide range of questions from party representatives and the audience during the forum, hosted at the local Republican headquarters in Columbus. Dozens of people — many of whom attended the public hearing during Monday’s commissioners meeting down the road earlier that evening — packed inside the building to listen to the candidates.

The two veteran law enforcement officials also shared some of the qualities they felt would make them the best person to represent the GOP on the ballot in November, with both pointing out their experience, training, strong advocacy for Second Amendment rights and a collaborative approach to local policing.

Darryl Bailey

Both candidates said they would like to work together with other law enforcement agencies —including those in Polk County, upstate South Carolina and highway patrol in both states — to combat the various crimes that occur in the area. Bailey, in particular, said if elected, he would institute monthly meetings with other departments in order to share information — especially to keep drugs and violent dealers from other parts of the region out of Polk County.

“Drugs are killing us right now,” Bailey said. “Heroin and meth are really bad.”

Wright had a similar philosophy, saying that Polk County needs to work with South Carolina officers to keep illegal substances from crossing the state border.

“Drugs isn’t just a Polk County issue,” Wright said. “It’s a nationwide issue, so we need the cooperation from local agencies around here.”

Both candidates said they would work closely with district attorney offices to secure strict convictions for habitual offenders as well. Wright said he has experience working with prosecutors to get habitual offenders off the streets — there are some serving prison time in Spartanburg right now due to the police work done by him and others with the Tryon Police Department.

Working with Polk County Schools and county commissioners to ensure student safety was another issue both candidates said they cared deeply about. Bailey said the sheriff’s office should make sure that regular safety drills are conducted with staff and students, while Wright said communication among law enforcement and school personnel is key.

“Getting involved, communicating with one another, letting each other know our concerns and working together to find best outlook for our schools is of upmost importance,” Wright said.

Both candidates said that increasing gun regulations, such as banning assault weapons such as the AR-15 rifle, were not proper solutions to the issue.

“As a police officer, I drove around with a [rifle] in my car for 22 years, and never once did it jump out and shoot somebody,” Bailey said.

The forum took place just a few weeks before the May 8 primary election, in which Republican voters will decide whether Bailey or Wright will represent the party in the general election on Nov. 6. The GOP candidate will face the winner of the Democrat primary, which also takes place May 8 between Polk County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Capt. BJ Bayne and Polk County Sheriff Deputy Ronnie Smith.

All four candidates are running for the position currently occupied by Sheriff Donald Hill, who is not seeking re-election.