The director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association has accused Gov. Terry McAuliffe of canceling a budget meeting in retaliation against sheriffs who have endorsed Republican Ed Gillespie for governor.
John W. Jones, the VSA’s executive director, sent an email to his members Friday warning of a “significant development” in the organization’s efforts to advocate on pay issues for deputy sheriffs. Jones said the annual meeting with McAuliffe, a Democrat, was supposed to take place Thursday.
“The governor canceled the meeting because a majority of sheriffs have endorsed Ed Gillispie (sic) for governor,” Jones wrote. “The VSA does not endorse any candidates for elected office.”
With polls showing a close race between Gillespie and Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, who is running largely on McAuliffe’s legacy, the dust-up with the VSA is a sign McAuliffe may be frustrated by perceived allies throwing their support to Gillespie.
On Thursday morning, the Gillespie campaign announced that Middlesex County Sheriff David Bushey had switched his endorsement from Northam to Gillespie.
McAuliffe’s office did not dispute Jones’ claim that the meeting was canceled due to political feuding, but said the governor has worked to give pay raises to sheriffs and state police and has invited the VSA to submit budget proposals without a face-to-face meeting.
“The governor is a huge supporter of Virginia law enforcement,” spokesman Brian Coy said. “His record reflects that.”
The Gillespie campaign said it has endorsements from 64 of the roughly 120 sheriffs in Virginia. Many sheriffs are elected as independents, but the group tends to lean Republican overall.
In his email, Jones said the scrapped meeting will put sheriffs at “a tremendous disadvantage” in the 2018 General Assembly session.
“As a result of this unfortunate development, it is now more important than ever that sheriffs and deputy sheriffs contact their legislators for support to increase salaries of our deputy sheriffs,” Jones wrote.
The Gillespie campaign responded to the VSA letter with a news release in which several Gillespie-supporting sheriffs criticized the governor.
“With an increase in gang violence and an opioid epidemic sweeping the commonwealth, this is no time for pettiness,” Gillespie said in a statement.