Mineral County Sheriff’s Race Candidate Promises Not to Enforce Federal Laws

by jhwygirl

Via The Clark Fork Chronicle, news comes to us that the Mineral County Sheriff’s race is heating up with one of the candidates – Ernie Ornelas – saying that he would not enforce federal laws. He cites the United Nations Small Arms Treaty as one he has problems with:

“The U.N. can pass the small arms treaty, but they cannot usurp our constitutional rights,” he said. “There are those in the federal government who believe they should. We have Supreme Court justices citing other countries’ rulings and U.N. rulings in their Supreme Court decisions, and that’s not constitutional.”

One he likes is House Bill 246, passed by the 2009 Montana Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. I mentioned this bill last session here, calling it “another one of those crazy unconstitutional ones”:

“Those are the types of things I’m talking about when states are trying to assert their rights,” he said. “Not just Second Amendment rights, but anything. Our states and states across the U.S. are starting to exert their Tenth Amendment rights.”

The Tenth Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The problem is that the federal government has been expanding its purview and assuming powers over matters that should have been reserved to the States and the people. “I am going to stand up for our state,” he said. “As a sheriff of a Montana county–a political subdivision of the state–to the extent that the federal government is trying to usurp the authority of the states, I’m standing up for what our state believes in.”


Mike Johnson, who is also vying for the seat, shot back today with an op-ed in The Clark Fork Chronicle, saying that a sheriff who picks and chooses which laws to enforce is violating the very checks and balances that form the basis of our government:

A Constitutional Sheriff? As a candidate and a resident in this county, what does that mean to all of us living here? If Mr. Ornelas objects to a law, does that mean he’s not going to enforce it? Does he even have the authority or the ethical right to pick and choose, for everyone, what laws he will or will not enforce?

The questions continue. If Mr. Ornelas is elected, how will the actions and decisions of a “Constitutional Sheriff” affect the working relationships we now have with federal organizations we rely on? I’m talking about agencies like the Department of Justice and the U.S. Marshals Service who are in charge of sending us federal inmates. I’m talking about federal grants and Forest Service contracts that put money into the budget.

Right now we have working relationships with HIDTA and ICE. HIDTA is the drug task force with whom Mineral County has worked for years. ICE is Immigration and Customs who have invited the Sheriff’s department to participate in drug interdictions on the interstate and pay for it. How will a “Constitutional Sheriff” affect these relationships?

On one hand Mr. Ornelas states that Mineral County has limited resources. On the other hand, if he realizes it or not, he is proposing to isolate Mineral County from federal agencies who provide us with resource assistance.

Johnson is right – and points to some of the very basic federal funding sources that Mineral County relies on heavily. PILT and SRS funding payments, for example, (I’ve written about those here and here) supplement schools and Mineral County’s general budget. National Security grants help to upgrade 911 systems…and as Johnson points out, HIDTA and ICE have provided assistance to the department for years with both training and enforcement assistance.

All this for a rural county that is comprised of 1,223-square-miles, much of it forested area connected by dirt roads. 6 deputies (and the sheriff) cover this entire area.

This upcoming election in Mineral County also brings with it a 3-year temporary 25-mill levy for public safety. That might seem harsh – but consider that in order to make up the $200,000 that the levy would raise, the department would have to cut 2 deputies and one dispatcher.

Ornelas’s solution? To “avoid vicarious liability”, he would sue the county.

Yeah – that’s conservative talk. Shun federal money and sue your own employers. What will that cost?

Mineral County residents would do well to send Ornelas packing and pick the 18-year Mineral County Sheriff’s department veteran and Montana native Mike Johnson who understands the issues…and plainly has some common sense.


  1. Oh, boy, well, let’s see here. How about the way the game is played? Whoever gets elected will decide which laws to enforce, no matter what’s said during the process of election. Mike Johnson, huhh, wasn’t a Johnson once sheriff of Ravalli? My memory isn’t that sharp, but for sure there isn’t a sheriff in Montana who has the power to enforce any law of his choice. Good wishes, though.

  2. Big Swede

    Let me see.

    Growing and distributing pot is against federal laws.

    Are we picking and choosing there?

  3. Local Resident

    It would be different if Johnson actually did his job…. but sitting in his office and at home instead of patroling the streets of our towns. Making $50,000.00 a year, we all see his patrol car day in and day out sitting in either place while he is on shift. I for one cant take it any more its plain theft… stealing from the local government/people. Johnson stated in the questionaire that he patrols the schools and writes tickets etc….. Well Johnson looks like your LYING AGAIN… In the past 3 years how many tickets have you written?

    If you worked as hard as you do to get out of work and actually did the work……..Like dropping of a DUI at the Mental Health instead of doing your job. I understand that the DUI that you failed to do your job….several weeks later crashed into the school yard fence while school was in session. That could have been one of our children behind that fence……. DO WE REALLY WANT SOMEONE LIKE JOHNSON AS OUR SHERIFF!!!!!!

    There are years of service that we all have seen his lack of care and respect for his job and the public. I for one do not want someone like that in as sheriff for the next 4 years and I hope you dont either. Obviously its for the MONEY not the publics safety.

    • Ornelas is dangerous. Dangerous.

      More traffic stops (or drug dogs or taking in more prisoners) isn’t the way to generate revenue. Not only does it put your few officers at greater risk, it focuses them on patrolling I-90 and takes them away from provided needed services to the community that pays for them.

      It’s shocking to me that you’d grade a sheriff by how many tickets he/she has written. That is no way to run a county or a sheriff’s department. Sure doesn’t make Superior or St. Regis look very inviting.

      • Concerned Citizen

        As a concerned Mineral County Resident I am amazed at how ignorant some people can be if they feel that writing tickets and trying to get more prisoners in the Jail does not generate more revenue! Where do you think the money comes from just driving around and hoping the officer sees something going on?
        As for Johnson he would rather degrade someone else than face up to his own imperfections. I for one do not want some one like him for Sheriff, heck most of the people I have talked to which is a lot did not even know he was the Under Sheriff, they thought he quit long ago. What makes you think he is going to be any different as Sheriff.
        We need positive change and the way to get this is to vote for Ernie Ornelas he is more qualified to be the Sheriff for Mineral County.

  4. mineral1938

    I strongly agree that Ernie Ornelas is the best candidate for Mineral County Sheriff. He has all the qualifications of Law Enforcement from being in the Military and working in a Big City as a Law Officer. Also he has medical experience from working at the Mineral County Clinic as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
    I have lived in Superior for over 30 years and I am currently not happy with the sheriff we have now, he shows no interest in the residents of Mineral County,and either does the Undersheriff. The only reason he is stepping forth now is to get votes to become sheriff, which would be detrimental to all of Mineral County!
    Like the last person wrote we need a positive change in this County and the only way we are going to get it is to get Ernie Ornelas in as Sheriff.

  5. swift1988

    We have a serious problem with our current Sheriff and Under Sheriff in all the years they both have been working there we have not seen any positive changes. The only thing that has happened is Deputies have quit and the citizens of Mineral County never hear from the Sheriff or Under Sheriff. We need a Sheriff in the Department that is going to bring positive change for the better, and be out in the community working along with his Deputies!!!
    The way to get this is to vote for ERNIE ORNELAS as SHERIFF OF MINERAL COUNTY.

    ERNIE ORNELAS IS A MAN OF HONESTY AND INTEGRITY this is the kind of Sheriff I want in Mineral County.

  6. Hmm, mine is the 1st post and I don’t even know what I meant, I mean I think I meant…. I remember Superior very well in the early 50s I’d sit above the tracks on the road up to the signal maintainer’s house (my grandfather) and watch the steam engine toot and cling/cling and chug back and forth up and down the yard. Darn, wish I could remember the name of that engine, it disappeared by 1958 for sure. Lovely dreams… but glad I don’t live there now. Good luck to the new sheriff.

  1. 1 Editor and Publisher John Q. Murray on the Danger of Constitutionalists « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] little over a week ago I wrote about the Mineral County Sheriff’s race which was turning strange – in my opinion – with a candidate promising to sue the […]

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