Mike Carona '92, Management & Human Resources
Orange County Sheriff
Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona opted to stay out of this year's California recall election despite his wave of regional popularity and close talks with California Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"You know, I am already a politician," says Carona, a '92 management & human resources graduate. "I got elected to this job, and I'm really proud to represent citizens. There will be something after sheriff; I don't know what that's going to be. There was a rumor that I was going to run for the U.S. Senate - I've dispelled that rumor,
and now, because of the recall, there was a rumor that I was going to run for governor."
The Republican Party began courting the sheriff after his collaborative work two years ago with Schwarzenegger on Proposition 49, the state's after-school program. After the two made public appearances together, a buzz soon developed about Schwarzenegger running for governor, with Carona running for lieutenant governor.
"You just get partnered up with people, so that's where the rumors start," he says. "We developed a great friendship, and our families get along well with each other. The relationship worked, but I've got a couple more years of this term before I can make any decisions about what I'm going to do."
Carona, who is sheriff of the second-largest county in the state and fourth largest in the United States, has completed nearly two years of his second 4-year term. Although he says he has been enjoying his public service, getting there has been a long road through many facets of law enforcement. In 2002, Carona was inadvertently thrust into the limelight for his department's swift handling of 4-year-old Samantha Runnion's abduction and murder in Orange County.
The sheriff headed the largest manhunt in the county's history and found the perpetrator in just a few days. The case galvanized the nation, bringing widespread publicity to the department and the sheriff.
He was appointed to his former positions of county bailiff and then marshal, but Carona had to be elected to his current post. In his first campaign for sheriff, Carona raised about $700,000 and won with 54 percent of the vote. His re-election was the most expensive sheriff's campaign in the history of Orange County, where he raised $1 million despite running uncontested.
"Campaigning is a full-contact sport," Carona says of the huge undertaking. "Running statewide is obviously more complicated, but I don't know that it really changes much. The core components of campaigning are the same. You have to raise money to get your message out there, you have to have a great campaign team and then you just have to work day and night. You have to get out there and talk to people, and you hope you'll get the right message out to them."
Carona was born and raised in Santa Monica. He made his way to Orange County in 1976 with his first law enforcement job in the marshal's office where he worked in detention, jail operations and court lock-up, among other assignments. He eventually was promoted to marshal, a job he held for 10 years, and in 1998, Carona became sheriff.
He now leads an organization of more than 4,000 employees and manages a half-billion-dollar budget. Some of the department's current priorities are working on a terrorism task force with the FBI and Homeland Security, determining the security needs of newly developed cities within the county and aggressively cracking down on gangs.
"I get a real thrill out of watching how people's lives change," he says of law enforcement. "We do a lot of work with kids and that's incredibly rewarding for me. Law enforcement is service oriented, no matter what you are doing, and you will be doing something that benefits the community. Also, it's a quasi-military roleyour objective is to take care of the community: to make sure things are safe. You get a chance to do it in a variety of ways. I find it to be really exciting."
When Carona's term expires in 2006, he will be just 51 years old with options that might include pursuing the road to Sacramento or staying closer to home.
"This concept of lieutenant governor isn't out of the realm of possibility," he says. "A lot of things can happen between now and when the next election cycle comes up for statewide office."