Gay Travis County sheriff candidate talks about changing county’s immigration stance, diversity

Posted on 01 May 2012 at 8:32pm

John Sisson

John Sisson, a gay Democratic candidate for Travis County sheriff, is up against incumbent Sheriff Greg Hamilton in the May 29 primary. Hamilton is running for his third term.

Former Sheriff Raymond Frank is the only candidate running on the Republican ticket. He was sheriff from 1973 to 1980.

Despite going up against an incumbent, Sisson said that he is faring well and received the endorsement of Stonewall Democrats of Austin.

After two marriages, Sisson came out as gay six years ago while working as a lieutenant for the Austin Police Department. Although he was talked about among his co-workers, Sisson said the talk eventually died down and he does not think his sexuality will be a target in the race.

“I am gay and I’m out. They’re fine with it,” he said. “Back in 1978 when I joined the police department, you just didn’t come out because you couldn’t get backup, they wouldn’t talk to you, they would treat you differently. And so I basically didn’t have enough guts to be who I really wanted to be.”

The negative thing people have held against him is his voting record because he voted for a Republican years ago when he was married. He said he followed the views of his wife but that he is a liberal and has stood firm on Democratic issues.

“When I came out as a gay man, my views of politics changed dramatically,” he said. “My views are Democratic views and I’m going to lead as a Democrat.”

While currently working as a deputy constable, he said he decided to run for office after law enforcement agencies approached him about running amid concerns that the current sheriff does not work closely with other agencies.

Immigration is a focus for Sisson in the race because he said he wants to cut down on the number of deportations of people who are non-violent offenders. Anyone who is arrested for a traffic violation to a violent felony is checked for their immigration status, leading to Travis County having the highest deportation rate of people who commit minor offenses than any other county in the nation, he said.

Sisson said that the current practice of checking everyone’s status is harmful because it punishes non-violent offenders and instills fear among Hispanic families who are afraid to report abuse to the police. Instead of focusing on minor offenders, he said law enforcement should pay attention to those who are violent offenders and “pose a threat to out county.”

“It’s inhumane, it breaks up families, it causes mistrust with police that females aren’t reporting family violence,” he said. “Nobody should have to be driving around Austin and being scared to death about being stopped for a traffic violation and getting deported.”

Sisson also wants to join forces with the Austin Police Department’s hate crime unit to assign deputies to help investigate crimes against the LGBT and other minority communities and wants to diversify the ranks of the department. Out of the 11 positions the sheriff appoints, Sisson said one is an African-American, two are female and the other eight are white males.

“I want to diversify the sheriff’s department to reflect on the community and also the gay community,” he said. “And hopefully this brings out gay officers at the sheriff’s department and gives them a sense of confidence to be able to come out.”

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