Saaranen, Sullivan among sheriff’s candidates
HOUGHTON — Four candidates are running in Houghton County’s sheriff race. Incumbent Sheriff Brian McLean is running against three candidates: write-in candidate Steve Laux, who previously ran against McLean in the Republican primary, and independent candidates Josh Saaranen and Roger Sullivan.
Profiles of McLean and Laux ran Saturday. Below are profiles of Saaranen and Sullivan.
Saaranen, a detective lieutenant with the sheriff’s department, first filed to run in case Laux had beaten McLean in the primary. With McLean winning that race, Saaranen is not actively campaigning, and has endorsed McLean.
“He’s a great boss to work for,” Saaranen said. “He’s a great public servant. And I think that the people of Houghton County are very fortunate to have him as their sheriff.”
Although he will not run against McLean, Saaranen said he would like to become sheriff someday. He is using the campaign to get his name out to voters and communicate his vision for the job.
Saaranen’s main priority would be public safety, which he said will include maintaining a secure jail and keeping 24/7 road patrol coverage of the county. He also wants to continue the fiscally conservative policies of McLean. He’s been learning the process of budgeting over the last couple of years as a trustee for the village of South Range.
He would also make sure the department is investing in its employees.
“I think that with investment — not just financially, but with training, everything else continuing with that, the return on that to the public and the services we can provide to the people are going to be exceptional,” he said.
A member of the Jail Task Force Committee that met last year to discuss preferred options for a new jail, Saaranen said he thinks everyone understands a new jail is a necessity.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully trying to continue that public cooperation with the whole community to figure out how we’re going to do that,” he said. Whenever the county does get a new jail, Saaranen said, it will also be important to make sure it’s up to safety standards not just for inmates, but employees.
Asked about the Black Lives Matter protests this year, Saaranen said he wants to make sure everyone knows the importance to the sheriff’s office of maintaining fairness across the board.
“We pride ourselves on making sure everybody’s constitutional rights are upheld,” he said. “And without putting any numbers on those rights, or pointing any of them out, making sure that the safety of those individuals and their constitutional rights, whether it be free speech, or any amendment issues are upheld.”
One of Saaranen’s tasks since joining the sheriff’s department was working with the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET). He said the county would be well-served by continuing to have a deputy work with the program.
“It’s not going to eliminate the problem completely,” he said. “But it is going to help with the addiction process and hopefully any life they save from any opiate overdoses is well worth the investment to the county sheriff’s office.”
A South Range native, Saaranen is a 2004 graduate of Northern Michigan University’s police academy. He started out at the Forsyth Township Police Department in Gwinn before moving back to the area in 2007. He began working part-time at the Houghton Police Department and Houghton County Sheriff’s Office before joining the sheriff’s office full-time. He’s held several positions, including working in the jail and road patrol, and now holds the rank of detective lieutenant.
Sullivan, a licensed residential builder, has lived in Houghton County for 40 of his 44 years. His family has a history in law enforcement: his grandfather was the chief of police in Calumet, while his sister also went into law enforcement.
“I’ve always had an admiration for law enforcement, and seeing what it’s become locally here. I just want to change it,” he said. “So about seven years ago, I really started looking into what goes on here, and who is accountable and who’s doing what they should be doing.”
Looking at where he could make the biggest change for the community, Sullivan decided on sheriff.
If elected, the first thing he would do would be to research the county jail issue, and see how the county got to this point and the best way to resolve it in a fiscally responsible manner.
He said one reason for the several unsuccessful millage attempts might be a perception that law enforcement in the county lets those at the top go unchecked.
When is the last time we ever had a wave of white-collar corruption clamped down on? I can’t remember any since Ventures,” he said. “So, you know, you’re talking 30 years where our criminal justice system has been pretty much picking on the poor and the youth of our community.”
Another priority is tackling the number of missing-persons cases in Houghton County.
“It’s one thing to go off and disappear,” he said. “But it’s another to be possibly abducted and have nothing done for you.”
Sullivan’s third priority would be making sure the justice system in the county is open to everyone.
“Anyone who comes to the sheriff’s department and issues a valid complaint, they will get 100% of my attention,” he said. “And currently they don’t have that … when you clean up those deficiencies, that boosts morale in the community, and the community can then enjoy their liberties and freedoms and start trying to improve their lifestyle.”
Asked about the Black Lives Matter protests, Sullivan said much of the despair in minority communities comes from unfair policing and prosecutorial actions. Opening up the criminal complaint process to everyone could help ease similar resentments here, he said.
“There’s a lot of training and education and counseling that law enforcement needs in order to adapt and move into the future generation, especially with the criminal justice reform going through,” he said.
But there’s no quick fix for the problem, Sullivan said, calling it a multi-tiered issue that also needs to take into account what can be done through the state constitution or the state government.
“This is America, everyone’s allowed their free speech, and I really wish we’d return to respecting other people, even if their speech is different than ours,” he said.
With no personal history in law enforcement, Sullivan said he would be digging into paperwork, and also learning from his undersheriff.
“They’re going to be the one with the criminal justice background, they’re going to be the one who’s most up to date on the rules of the jail, “ he said. “But I’m a knowledge-hungry person. And when I’m motivated, such as I am now, there’s no stopping. I will soak up every bit of knowledge that is out there in order for me to be the best sheriff Houghton County has ever had, or will ever have.”
Sullivan said he would put other people’s best interests first and always sacrifice to help out others.
“After the Father’s Day flood, the empathy on me was torn open,” he said. “And there’s nothing more that I want to do than to help future generations and the current people of Houghton County.”