Nez Perce County Sheriff Joe Rodriguez fended off a primary challenge from one of his deputies in the Republican primary Tuesday, marking the second time he has bested Patrick Santos at the ballot box.

In the general election in November, Rodriguez will face off against independent Bryce Scrimsher, who was his chief deputy until the sheriff sacked him in 2018. Rodriguez has said the fact that Scrimsher helped facilitate two employee complaints against him were not a factor in the firing since he was unaware of Scrimsher’s involvement.

“It was up to the citizens of Nez Perce County to choose the best candidate,” said Rodriguez, who is running for a third four-year term. “And I appreciate everybody’s support and their votes. We’re just going to continue to build on the eight years I’ve been in office and we’ll just keep campaigning hard and moving forward.”

Asked what he would do going forward to set the tone of what has been a relatively rancorous campaign, Rodriguez said he will stick with his values in the face of attacks.

“I’m sure that there’s going to be more smear campaigns, that they’re just going to try to dig up whatever,” he said. “I’m just going to stick to who I am and let the voters kind of do their investigation. And then we’ll just move forward from there.”

Santos is the senior patrol sergeant with 20 years of experience in the sheriff’s office. His bid against Rodriguez in the 2016 Republican primary came up short, but he has said the firing of Scrimsher without a clear direction for the sheriff’s office pushed him to run again. Santos also cited a recent vote of no confidence in Rodriguez by the police union as a reason for low morale and high turnover in the office.

Rodriguez’s campaign focused on his efforts toward better equipment and training for his deputies. The office secured its first drug dog during his current term, for instance.

Rodriguez tallied 2,465 votes, or 53.42 percent, to Santos’ 2,149 votes, or 46.58 percent. Nez Perce County Auditor/Recorder Patty O. Weeks said 35.1 percent of registered voters cast ballots, which were all absentee because of concerns about COVID-19.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2266.

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