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Runoff race for Miller County Sheriff gets heated as jabs thrown by supporters of candidates

Jun 8, 2022

Two qualified candidates are going head to head in a runoff. But the previously friendly tone of the race is rapidly diminishing in the days before a new Sheriff of Miller County is chosen.

Make no mistake: So far, this is not a Southwest Arkansas grudge match. Both Stephen D. Ward and Wayne Easley seem to like each other. 

Hopefully, this will continue, but things could change if the race becomes more tumultuous. While the candidates have been acting like boxers who are respectful of each other in the ring, some ardent supporters are trying to make "Ward vs. Easley" a WWE-style Summer Slam event.

Easley and Ward have both felt compelled to respond because each candidate has vocal and active supporters throwing such damaging jabs.

Unpredictable election

In the last two weeks, dozens of stories and rumors have been publicly aired about Stephen D. Ward and Wayne Easley on social media. And even more is being said in social gatherings and offices around Texarkana.

One Miller County resident who calls himself "Old Timer," told Texarkana News he was undecided. 

"We are lucky. Both guys have a lot in their favor and would be good as Sheriff. But that is a problem in this election because somebody has got to win," he said. "I've been hearing a lot of mud thrown around. It's getting ugly."

Punch - counterpunch

Wayne Easley pointed to the historical lack of interest in runoff elections: "Runoffs don't usually have a good turnout," he told his supporters on Facebook.

On Tuesday, June 7, Stephen D. Ward suggested a public discussion between him and Easley in an open forum to let the voters hear from them directly - probably because of all the public debate.

Oddly enough, the fighting will likely increase voter turnout in the Sheriff's race (at least somewhat), even though there are usually no winners in back-and-forth rumors that are often misleading or untrue.

In May, Ward was the top vote-getter, with Easley close behind. Third-place finisher Mark Lewis also made a strong showing. In fact, all three candidates received more than 1,500 votes, and no one received more than 2,000 votes.

What does this mean? The election is up for grabs as almost a third of voters chose another candidate. And this is why Ward and Easley's supporters are taking no prisoners in their criticism of the opposing side.

Rumors grow as they go

Stephen D. Ward has been faced with an accusation that he had his eyes closed and/or fell asleep on the job on one occasion. But he vigorously denies it. He told supporters no one ever looked at video evidence of the incident: 

"I even have a letter from the pastor saying he nor anyone else from the church was contacted to look at the cameras," said Ward, who firmly believes the incident was "political."

Social media posts have alleged questionable conduct by Wayne Easley during an incident at Zapata's Mexican Restaurant. Easley said he actually won an award for his actions during the event that has been discussed.

Easley said: "I would like to address some rumors that a few supporters of my opponent have been spreading in their social media posts. I have never been suspended for anything in my almost 25 years of being a police officer. I have had heated discussions with people in my department as I am sure most people have in a job they have worked at this long."

We will not detail every rumor thrown around since May 24, 2022, but the incidents above give the flavor of stories circulating around Southwest Arkansas.

Mike Tyson wisdom?

The race for Miller County Sheriff is not going to get less nasty before early voting beginning June 14 for the June 21 election. 

Because of this, voters can expect to hear much more about Stephen D. Ward and Wayne Easley in the coming days. But unfortunately, most of it will likely be less than favorable.

However, think about this: Maybe a tough election is not all bad. 

Both candidates already know that police work in the social media age is filled with some citizens who spread rumors and innuendo. Good sheriffs in Arkansas now have to be able to fight misinformation with facts.

Mike Tyson famously said: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." 

The jabs thrown in this election runoff boxing ring could be a test voters use to determine the fortitude of each candidate - as well as the methods they use to communicate truth to the public. 

Seeing Ward and Easley think on their feet and defend their records is a good thing - even if the candidates themselves may not realize it right now.

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