It’s looking like Donny Youngblood will keep his job as Kern County’s sheriff for at least another term.
Late into Tuesday’s election, at 6 minutes after midnight, Youngblood was winning in a landslide with 64.3 percent of the vote, or 46,376 votes, according to the Kern County Elections Office. Youngblood’s challenger, Chief Deputy Justin Fleeman, had earned 31 percent of the vote, or 22,334 votes.
Karen Rhea, the county's assistant registrar of voters, said vote tallies did not always add up to 100 percent because some people voted for both candidates, some neither, and others wrote in their own choice.
“I feel good,” Youngblood said during an election-night party at the Buck Owens Crystal Palace. “This is exactly what we thought would happen. We’re just going to go back to work and serve this community.”
Youngblood said he was surprised that he won by such a large margin, but he said his supporters were convinced that there would be that level of support for him.
Fleeman said Tuesday night that while the initial results were disheartening, he believes there are still many votes to be counted and that could sway the result of the election.
“I’m still optimistic about the results,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of votes that still need to be counted. It’s too early to tell for sure.”
The sheriff race was vicious and deeply personal for both candidates. Upon announcing his plan to run against his boss, Fleeman made several accusations against Youngblood, such as protecting his friends from firing for ethical violations and misallocating department funding to buy a helicopter.
Fleeman’s supporters in the Kern County Detention Officers Association also released a 12-year-old video that showed Youngblood talking about how it is better financially for an officer to kill rather than injure a suspect.
Youngblood didn’t deny that the footage was real but said his comments were taken out of context. He also said that he should have made his point in a better way.
Youngblood criticized Fleeman for running what he believed to be a dirty campaign aimed at ruining his reputation and that of the Sheriff’s Office in order to win.
Youngblood said on Tuesday that he’s glad that this emotional rollercoaster of a campaign is at its end.
“I wish it would not have taken the path that it did take. It was destructive, divisive and unfortunate,” he said. “We took the high road no matter what. There were times when we wanted to respond, but we tried not to.”
Youngblood said it’s going to be a challenge to bring together a department that has been pulled in different directions for some time.
“I’ll work to bring the organization together, try to fix what’s happened,” he said. “I think the department will be less divided tomorrow than it is today. We’re still going to have people that aren’t on board, but my thought is let’s just put this behind us and move forward on equal ground.”