Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, frequent Newsom critic, ponders a run to succeed him

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, a conservative firebrand known for law-and-order views and fierce criticism of Gov. Gavin Newsom, is considering a run for governor in 2026.

Bianco, who was first elected as sheriff in 2018 following a decades-long career at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, hasn’t formally announced his candidacy. However, he told The Times in an interview Friday that he’s discussing with his family a run for the state’s top job.

“I live in the perfect place. I have the perfect job, and I would do this for the next 40 years if people would keep electing me here in Riverside County,” Bianco said. “So this is a huge thing for me to decide to just give up. The growing number of people that are trying to convince me to do this is a bug in my ear that, quite frankly, has given me something to think about.”

The sheriff, who has not been shy about calling attention to what he sees as deficiencies in statewide public safety laws, had a viral moment this month when he posted a tongue-in-cheek video on Instagram endorsing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In it, the sheriff, sitting in a car wearing his uniform, jokes that after years of being critical of policies that have closed prisons or reduced jail sentences, he is “going to change teams.”

“I think it’s time we put a felon in the White House,” he deadpanned. “Trump 2024, baby. Let’s save this country and make America great again.”

Critics called him out for advocating for a candidate while wearing a taxpayer-funded uniform.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who is running for governor, called for an investigation into Bianco’s actions and accused him of breaking a state law that prohibits officers or employees of local agencies from participating in political activities while in uniform.

“We can’t afford to have a criminal in the White House or a governor who doesn’t follow the law,” Thurmond said in a video posted on X. On Friday, Thurmond challenged Bianco to a debate “about the issues, from [Bianco’s] misuse of taxpayer funds to the myriad of challenges facing the people of California.”

Bianco told The Times he has “zero regrets” about posting the video and was dismayed that his detractors failed to address the first portion of it, in which he points out the public safety challenges facing the state.

“It’s shocking that the only thing that would garner attention is me saying I support Trump. It’s the epitome of the failure of the political system,” Bianco said. “Everyone just wants to talk about what they want to talk about and avoid the disaster they’re part of or that they have caused.”

In 2021, Bianco grabbed headlines for vowing not to enforce vaccine mandates for Sheriff’s Department employees, saying he believes vaccination is a personal choice.

A month later, Bianco faced scrutiny after it was revealed through a data leak that in 2014 he was a dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right, anti-government group whose ranks participated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. At the time, he said in a statement that “like many other law enforcement officers and veterans who were members, I learned the group did not offer me anything and so I did not continue membership.”

Last year, Bianco was among a coalition of 90 sheriffs across the country who publicly endorsed the tough stance on border security taken by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.

More recently, Bianco has appeared on television news outlets to champion an initiative called the Homelessness, Drug Addiction and Theft Reduction Act, which seeks to change Prop. 47, the 2014 ballot measure that reduced some nonviolent property crimes and simple drug possession to misdemeanors. The initiative would toughen penalties for retail theft and require drug treatment for those charged with possession.

A coalition of sheriffs across California, the Republican Party of Riverside County and a number of current and former lawmakers have called on Bianco to run for governor.

Former State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, who is leading a group called the “Draft Bianco coalition,” said in a statement this week that the sheriff’s candidacy would provide a “real alternative” for California voters.

“In the face of Sacramento’s failures on issues like crime and homelessness, Sheriff Bianco’s leadership has been an example for other communities to follow across the state,” Hollingsworth said.

Bianco would be the first high-profile Republican to enter the crowded race to succeed Newsom, who terms out in 2027. In addition to Thurmond, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, State Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and former state Controller Betty Yee have announced their candidacies.

“I don’t want to be just the Republican running for governor. I want to be the leader that people want to fix this state,” Bianco said. “And if I can get mentally to a point where I believe that California wants a leader to fix the state, then I will make the decision to do it.”

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