Sunday, July 29, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

You can’t blame the public for being confused about just who the acting sheriff really is, since his dual life has not been much explained in the media.

Most big endorsements are choosing Earnell Lucas.
Yet Milwaukee County voters are being asked August 14 to choose among this undersheriff, one other deputy running and the Democratic Party’s enthusiastic recommendation for a clean slate for the county – Earnell Lucas, a former district captain in the Milwaukee police department who was picked by Bud Selig to run national security for professional baseball for the last 16 years and has been campaigning for this county position for over a year.

The current “sheriff” was chosen in April by Gov. Scott Walker to remain in the office until the general election.  He inherited the job from escaping (retiring) sheriff David Clarke, who became an infamous right-wing media tool in the last few years – and at first some at the county were glad just to see a friendlier face.  Anyone would have been a welcome change in emphasis from Clarke who had clearly hoped to get an immediate job in the Trump administration (but to this point has proved too toxic even for them.) 

Sure enough,  Richard Schmidt started his reign by promising a cleanup at the county detention facility, where death and brutality charges had been blamed on how Clarke’s department ran the place. Even the second in command seemed a breath of fresh air despite concerns of how he had dutifully for years followed Clarke’s orders on the House of Correction.

But last April, Schmidt said he felt “blindsided” when he was blamed by Clarke for being in charge of day to day operations at the Milwaukee County Jail – and by implication responsible for the horrors there. Yet in the same Journal Sentinel story he still felt “Clarke was a good leader” who had done “some very good things, such as cleaning up the lakefront.”

Acting Sheriff Richard Schmidt
The swiftness to forgive the boss who had promoted him to second in command can be viewed as too submissive.  Or philosophically based if you listen to his sermons. Or somewhat unsettling, depending on where you stand on both Christianity and how the US Constitution lets you fight back against governmental tyranny. 

Certainly Schmidt’s views pale in comparison to the credentials and proven integrity of Lucas who was Third District commander when he left the Milwaukee police force to take on security concerns for major league baseball and its 75 million fans. Imagine how many diverse temperaments he had to handle in that job!

Lucas campaigning with
 Sen. Tammy  Baldwin.
Lucas has more than promised a clean slate.  He has outlined specific law enforcement policies welcoming all citizens while prioritizing budget concerns, which have been one of Schmidt’s messy spendthrift inheritances from Clarke.

The outlined program and his engaging personality have brought Lucas dozens of notable endorsements including US Rep. Gwen Moore and DA John Chisholm.  Maybe it was  his independent streak that also brought mystification when one of Clarke’s famous foes, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, appeared less interested in how well the taxpayer money would now be handled under Lucas than in who will be more obedient to Abele’s authority.

The media has now become intrigued and frankly puzzled why Clarke-hater Abele is using both his money and his political arm, Leadership MKE, to put such weight behind Schmidt.  Pundits openly speculated that Abele is seeking the most pliable candidate -- and that led them to wonder why Gov. Walker decided to let Schmidt continue in the sheriff’s role in the first place, when strong candidates, including Lucas, had applied for the job.

There is another factor that public knows little about and the media is reluctant to talk about for historic reasons of separation of church and state.  Fundamentalists may claim the media doesn’t care about such fairness, but it does. The Constitution and freedom of belief generally stand in the way of jumping too harshly on personal religious beliefs in the public arena. Schmidt is a veteran pastor but do his religious views matter in a political contest?

I’ve listened to a number of his sermons and interviewed the sheriff and many people I know at Milwaukee County.  All agreed with his statement to me. “Never once in my 32 years with the department has anyone ever claimed my religious beliefs played a part in what I do,” Schmidt said.  “The First Amendment allows everyone religious freedom.  In those beliefs I treat every single person with respect.”

But his sermons are something voters should take time to know about. A deeper understanding emerges when we explore the motors operating the brain that wants the sheriff’s job permanently. 

Schmidt concedes that he has worked to keep his sheriff’s life and his pastoral reach somewhat separate.  Online at the county his resume builds up his law enforcement credentials and his summer seminars at Quantico and the like (made available by the FBI to educate many in local law enforcement).  That could just be smart politics, inflating a work resume when running for office.

But not included in his official online county resume is his extensive preaching career.  In his own online site and sermons, he subordinates his law credentials to his divinity degrees (mainly several online programs, a defunct college and treks to Israel). 

In the pulpit his double life is openly part of the material, since he was an associate pastor when he joined the Milwaukee sheriff’s department. “I think there’s been some misunderstanding about comments I’ve made” when people discuss if one role is more important than the other, he said.  “I’ve proved over 32 years I don’t skew things. “

But you should sample his sermons online, delivered in a soothing conversationalist Midwest  voice with sudden bursts of passion and titles like Institutions Ordained by God, End-Times Prophecy, Why Christians Love Israel, Sheep & Goat Judgment, Christian Ethics in a Secular Society, Halloween and the Occult (dating back to 2014) and Barriers Against Crime (2015).

Several, discussing his law enforcement role in prophetic teachings, urge first responders to be fair to all comers and “do what is right” but that right is clearly determined by believing the truth as it is found in the Scriptures rather than the law and that heaven is open only to “all believers in Christ . . . not of good works.”

“Being a good person will not work,” he warns from the pulpit. “The sequence is we trust Christ, then we do the good works.”  

Like a basic civics teacher, he discusses the First Amendment in “Examining Cultural Christianity” but then he warns that “we’re gagging the Gospel” in concern about what the Supreme Court allows and doesn’t. Pointing to a passage in Romans, he reminds listeners that God has allowed secular authorities to exist, so “I want to be cautious in how I respond to government authorities. Certain governmental people have positional authority over me.”  This is deference to the chain of command when you consider his current county situation. “We have to be sensitive about working not preaching.”

In one recent sermon, “The Apocalyptic One World System,” he attempts to explain just who gets to heaven, why it is so selective and . . . well,   you may leave a bit confused.  Apparently the Bible points to one religious economic and political system coming from the Rapture, and heaven is reserved for those who died in Christ first and only then to selected subsets of the Satanic Trinity. 

How civil law relates to that or how even such science as carbon dating relates in the daily world are not explained, since Schmidt insists on literal interpretation of the Bible – meaning  that the Earth dates back only  to 4,000 B.C.  He constantly cites biblical verse that simply doesn’t say what he says it does – at least not without dense elaborate interpretation. A simply phrase in Ecclesiastics (“Look to Israel”) becomes an injunction for the Apocalypse.

Schmidt preaches a variation on fundamental Christianity.  Divinity scholars contacted call his beliefs “Dispensational Premillennialism,” a mouthful they relate to an “outdated 19th century system.” Modern voters have a right to evaluate the full person. 

Schmidt also admits he was going to retire completely from the sheriff’s department once Clarke retired -- until Walker appointed him rather than selecting among many candidates.  Now on August 14 the voters have to decide who will be the new sheriff.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.  

No comments:

Post a Comment