- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2015

The San Francisco sheriff whose sanctuary city policy has been blamed for the July death of Kathryn Steinle at the hands of an illegal immigrant is up for re-election Tuesday, and he’s facing a stiff challenge as residents grapple with immigration policy and local policing.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s race is one of the marquee contests in what is otherwise a slow off-year Election Day.

Most of the action is down the ballot, including in San Francisco, where a battle over new rental rules could severely curtail residents’ ability to rent their homes out to vacationers on platforms such as Airbnb. Ohio voters will decide whether to allow medical and recreational use of marijuana, while setting up a strict regime for who’s allowed to grow the drug supply in the state.

Mississippi and Kentucky voters will elect governors, with incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Bryant poised for reelection in the former, while Kentucky has a spirited race between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin to succeed term-limited incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.

Republicans have a chance to oust the last Democrat holding statewide office in the Deep South in the Mississippi attorney general’s race.

And voters will elect state legislators in a handful of states — though only one chamber, the Virginia Senate, is seen as up for grabs. Republicans hold a 21-19 advantage in the chamber, and losing a single seat would swing power to Democrats because of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s tie-breaking vote.

The party that prevails is likely to claim major national implications ahead of next year’s presidential elections, but analysts said not to read that much into it.

“Comparing an off-year state result to a national election is just two different animals,” said Kyle D. Kondik, managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the election-watching project of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Some issues will be tested, however.

Obamacare has been a major dividing line between the two candidates in Kentucky’s governor’s race, with Mr. Bevin promising to roll back Mr. Beshear’s state-level embrace of President Obama’s signature health law.

In Virginia, gun control advocates have intervened in some of the key state Senate races, hoping to sway the election toward Democrats but risking a troubling electoral rebuke if they are unsuccessful.

Houston voters will decide on a ballot initiative to ban housing or job discrimination based on sexual orientation, while Mississippi voters will decide whether to require the state to provide an “adequate and efficient system of public schools,” and would let a court oversee whether funding is adequate.

“This election is too important to let it pass by unnoticed,” the Center for American Progress said in a memo Monday alerting supporters to liberal issues on several ballots.

Sheriff Mirkarimi’s race, meanwhile, is being watched by both sides of the immigration debate, with advocates for a crackdown saying a loss would show even San Francisco is growing weary of unfettered sanctuary policies protecting illegal immigrants.

His opponent, former Chief Deputy Vicki Hennessy, supports a less blanket policy and says she would rescind Sheriff Mirkarimi’s “gag order,” which effectively prohibits most communication or cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Earlier this year Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant deported five times before, was accused of killing Steinle, a 32-year-old, as she walked on the waterfront with her father. Federal immigration authorities had asked the sheriff’s department to notify them when Lopez-Sanchez was to be released from local custody so he could be picked up for deportation, but the sheriff’s office released him under its sanctuary policies, saying even notifying federal officials amounts to cooperating.

Local officials say the gag order goes well beyond the city’s sanctuary law, and the sheriff’s policy has drawn rebukes from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But the city council last month approved a resolution backing the sheriff’s policy.

Ms. Hennessy, for her part, says she would allow cooperation on a case-by-case basis — a view that earned her the endorsement of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sheriff Mirkarimi, meanwhile, has feuded with the city’s mayor and faced a series of personal travails, including having had his driver’s license suspended and flunking a marksmanship test — each of which could also weigh down his reelection bid.

Political consultant Dan Newman told The Associated Press that because of the sheriff’s problems, the election is Ms. Hennessy’s to lose.

“He imploded before he started,” Mr. Newman said. “Then he continued with a string of screw-ups.”

In Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a popular Democrat who’s seeking a fourth term, is the last remaining official elected statewide in the Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, Mr. Kondik said.

Of course, whatever happens in Mississippi, Louisiana could change that later this month. That state already had its so-called “jungle primary” for governor last month, narrowing the field to the top two vote-getters, Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter. They now square off on Nov. 21.

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