Brett Hightower rode to victory Tuesday in the election for Warren County sheriff, unseating nine-term incumbent Jerry “Peanuts” Gaines by a total of 22,978 to 16,744.
The military veteran and retired Bowling Green Police Department captain ran a tireless campaign, canvassing neighborhoods and reaching out online in a way that helped deliver the election to the Republican by a comfortable margin.
“This was about building a reputation in this community over the last 30 years where people knew my character and felt comfortable speaking about my character to their family, friends, co-workers and church members,” Hightower said Tuesday night. “This wasn’t my win, it was a win for the community.”
Hightower made community engagement a priority during his campaign, advocating the formation of a community safety council comprised of a panel of local public safety experts who would solicit ideas from the community about improving school safety.
He also offered a compelling story to voters.
Injured in combat in 2008 while serving in Afghanistan as a member of the Kentucky National Guard, Hightower received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star during his military service, during which he trained police in Afghanistan and worked to rebuild war-torn communities there and in Bosnia.
“I’m looking forward to getting the transition started in the near future,” Hightower said. “I’ve talked to some folks about some planning meetings and how we’re going to incorporate our vision for Warren County into the sheriff’s department.”
After a series of lopsided victories, Gaines, the Democratic incumbent and one of the longest-serving elected officials in local history, faced his toughest Republican challenge in this year’s election.
The outgoing sheriff watched the returns come in Tuesday night at the Warren County Courthouse before calling Hightower to congratulate him.
“I’ve been a servant of the people and I love helping people, but someone else can carry the torch,” Gaines said. “I’m going to enjoy life.”
First elected in 1978, Gaines has held the office of sheriff for 36 years and has been in the post for the past 32 years after the state’s constitution allowed county sheriffs to hold office for consecutive terms.
Gaines, 81, leaned on his experience as his greatest asset throughout the campaign, touting his decades as an administrator overseeing the growth of a department that has paralleled the county’s growth.
During Gaines’ time in his office, the department grew from one with eight deputies and one dispatcher to one with 103 employees and 64 road deputies and court security officials responsible for collecting an estimated $81 million in taxes.
The department added school resource officers this year in the county’s middle schools, which Gaines said represented the department’s attention to emerging public safety concerns.
“I appreciate what everyone has done for me,” Gaines said. “The Warren County Sheriff’s Office is the best in the state of Kentucky, bar none, and I hope (Hightower) keeps it going.”
– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.