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Criminal Justice

Dumped by Democratic Party, Sheriff Villanueva Will Headline LA County GOP Winter Wonderland Party

L.A. Sheriff Villanueva, wearing his uniform, stands on stage in front of a red curtain. His arms are folded at his waist, with his left hand grasping his right wrist.
L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva, seen here at a graduation ceremony for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy in 2019, will be the featured speaker at this year's Winter Wonderland holiday celebration put on by the county GOP. The county Democratic Party, which endorsed him three years ago, has called on him to resign.
(Kyle Grillot for LAist)
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Sheriff Alex Villanueva headlines the L.A. County GOP’s Winter Wonderland event Saturday, another sign of his estrangement from the local Democratic Party.

Three years ago, Villanueva scored an upset victory over incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell, in large part, because of the endorsement of the L.A. County Democratic Party.

Before that, the party had paid little attention to the nonpartisan office. But as policing issues gained prominence, Democrats saw Villanueva as a progressive and a reformer who promised to remove federal immigration agents from the jails.

Party leaders soured on him almost immediately.

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They were disappointed over his rehiring of a deputy who had been terminated over allegations of domestic abuse and lying. Democrats were also frustrated by Villanueva’s resistance to civilian oversight and what they saw as his refusal to stamp out secret deputy groups, which critics describe as gangs.

In June, the party’s central committee called on Villanueva to resign, accusing him of “perpetuating a culture of police brutality.”

The sheriff dismisses the criticism. He maintains he still has the backing of many Democrats and that only a “politically woke” fringe no longer supports him.

In his 2018 campaign, Villanueva accused McDonnell of supporting policies of former President Donald Trump. Now, with his appearance at the county GOP’s holiday party, Villanueva is courting Trump supporters.

About 20% of registered voters in the county are Republican. Last year, more than a quarter of the overall ballots cast in the county went to Trump.

Eight people have declared their intention to challenge Villanueva. Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, retired L.A. Sheriff's Captain Matt Rodriguez, former assistant sheriff and current LAX Police Chief Cecil Rhambo, Sheriff's Commander Eli Vera, Sheriff's Capt. Britta Steinbrenner and Sheriff's Lt. Eric Strong have publicly launched their campaigns.

Enrique Del Real and April Saucedo Hood have filed candidate paperwork with the Registrar of Voters, but have not formally begun campaigning.

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