MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The primary election for sheriff was the hottest race in Muskegon County, where voter turnout was higher than expected Tuesday, and its result put the two-term incumbent out of the race.
Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler called in sick to work Wednesday, the morning after he was unseated by Michael Poulin, a former captain in his office, in the Democratic primary. It wasn’t close — Poulin beat Roesler by nearly 2-to-1 margin.
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Paul Alan Billings, a WUVS radio host and community activist, said the outcome was predictable:
“No surprise. We all knew he was going to win,” he said. “I think Sheriff Roesler knew.”
Muskegon County Clerk Nancy Waters said Tuesday’s primary election ballot, which featured several important races, brought out a higher than normal turnout for an August primary — more than 28 percent. Of all the issues on the ballot, which included two judicial contests, the sheriff’s race had the most votes of any of the Democratic or Republican races.
“I’m impressed with the amount of people from Muskegon County who came out to vote,” Poulin told 24 Hour News 8 the day after his victory. “That lets us all know that our community is committed to change.”
Poulin was a captain with the county sheriff’s department with more than 28 years of law enforcement experience before he left last year after a public dispute with Roesler.
“People question his (Roesler’s) integrity. There have been some mishaps, terrible mistakes that Sheriff Roesler owned up to. Those mistakes cost him this election,” Billings said.
A year ago, Roesler was on the hot seat after he walked out of a gas station with $7 worth of coffee but only paid $3. Roesler said he thought he paid the right amount and had no intent to steal. Another county’s prosecutor did not file charges against him.
Roesler and Poulin engaged in a public dispute after Poulin filed a grievance, saying he was demoted as a result of politics.
“You throw all those together, it was not acceptable for the general public to see a public official act in that manner,” Billings said.
After his win, Poulin said his decision to run was not based on that incident.
“The fact of the matter is I never would have treated a person the way he treated me,” Poulin said. “My decision to run for this office — I mean, I grew up in Muskegon County — to run for this office actually started sometime in 1987.”
Poulin received endorsements from many well-known political names, including former police chiefs and mayors from around the county, including Norton Shores Mayor Gary Nelund. Nelund told 24 Hour News 8 his endorsement was based simply on the idea that “we could do better.” Muskegon Prosecutor D.J. Hilson did not endorse any of the candidates.
“I think Muskegon County as a whole was pretty much tired of the things that have been going on with the office, tired of the good boys network that has been happening historically for years,” Poulin said.
“When you at the top, it starts at the top, when people are not happy with it — staff is not happy, general public is not happy — it’s generally not going to be good for an incumbent,” Billings added.
As evidenced by the truck he drives, which bears a massive picture of him on it, confidence is not a problem for Poulin.
“We ran a campaign like I’ve never seen before and I don’t think anybody has for a sheriff’s race,” he said. “Accountability, integrity — these are the things this office needs to hold and always should have.”
According to staff at his office, Roesler called in sick Wednesday. He did not respond to requests for an interview, but he did provide 24 Hour News 8 with this statement:
“I congratulate the winner and thank the citizens for the privilege of serving these last 8 years. I believe we were able to accomplish a lot of good things for the citizens of Muskegon County. Elections ultimately result in winners and losers. That is part of our political process in our great country and I as much as any one respect that process.”
In the November general election, Poulin will face off against Dennis Luce, a sergeant in the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, who won the Republican primary for sheriff. It has been more than 50 years since the Muskegon County sheriff was a Republican.
The chair of the Muskegon County Commission, Terry Sabo, said this has been a tough campaign. He won a hard-fought race for the Democratic nomination for the 92nd District State House.
“This primary election cycle seems to been somewhat divisive, so I really look forward to us all getting back on the same page again and working for the residents of Muskegon County,” Sabo said.