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Leroy Hobbs:
Could He Be Harrison County’s Next Sheriff?

By Keith Burton - GCN 2/5/07

In almost any county, a three-term sheriff usually means a man with the experience to easily win re-election. But in Harrison County, it means Howard Leroy Hobbs, a man who spent time behind the bars of a federal prison, and a man running again for his old job.

Eight years ago, two years after Hobbs got out of prison, this reporter interviewed Hobbs about his future. Even then he was considering running for sheriff, but he chose not to do so. Flash forward to 2007 and Hobbs has thrown his hat into the ring in the upcoming sheriff race. His candidacy has stirred the local newspaper to editorialize that he should withdraw his candidacy, but he will not.

“I’m in it for the long haul,” Hobbs said in an exclusive GCN interview.

Hobbs has filed to run as an independent, which insures that he will be on the ballot in November. It is also how he ran the first time for sheriff back in 1971. He served until 1983 before going to prison on federal racketeering and drug-related charges. He served 11 years, 6 months of a 20 year sentence that followed a federal sting operation. Since his release, he has lived quietly, much as a retiree would, at his home on Country Club Lane in North Biloxi along the Tchoutacabouffa River.

It is at his home that we interviewed Hobbs. The views from the panoramic windows in the back of his home are truly spectacular. Atop a large big-screen projector television in his living room is a foam head with a round law-enforcement style hat. A badge on the hat reads “H. L. Hobbs – Sheriff.”

At 72 Hobbs looks a bit younger than his years would suggest and he was at ease with our interview. He stands straight and appears trim and fit. His face still displays a warm smile but you can tell that time has wrought some wrinkles in his smile and eyes. Hobbs has always been an affable man; it is among the reasons why this convicted former sheriff still can be considered a real contender, and he has plenty of friends.

Some readers may wonder why it is that Hobbs can even consider running for public office as a convicted federal offender. A 1992 Mississippi constitutional amendment prohibits people with federal felony records from holding public office. But because Hobbs was sentenced before the amendment was approved, Hobbs is eligible to serve. Some people would consider this a loophole, but it is the law.

To run as an independent all such candidates must file a petition with the county circuit clerk with it least 150 names of county voters who support the election effort. The list supplied by Hobbs to GCN has some notable names including  former Harrison County Sheriff Joe Price. Price served as sheriff prior to the current Sheriff George Payne.

Hobbs says he has plenty of support within the county to make his campaign viable. He is running among a list of people that have almost no name recognition, or no extensive experience in law enforcement. If there is one thing Hobbs brings to the table it is experience, from both sides of the law. Prior to being Harrison County Sheriff, Hobbs also served as Chief of Police in Gulfport.

The current sheriff, George Payne, has yet to announce his candidacy. The Sun Herald also has run an editorial suggesting Payne should not seek re-election.

We asked Hobbs why he was running again. His answer was brief. “I don’t like the way the sheriff department is being run,” Hobbs said.

The current sheriff is embroiled in a major controversy dealing with prisoner abuse at the jail. A federal investigation is underway and to date, five deputies have pleaded guilty and another is facing a murder charge of an inmate. Sheriff Payne is also facing major criticism from the Harrison County Board of Supervisors for failing to appear before board meetings, or talking about the problems at the jail. Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco told GCN recently that Sheriff Payne (photo left)  has never attended a board of supervisors meeting.

The big problem Hobbs faces in his campaign is his federal criminal record. When GCN asked Hobbs about his federal troubles in the past, he smiled broadly.

“I’d be the most watched sheriff in the United States,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs also noted how the public seems to welcome back lawyers who have been convicted of federal crimes, then re-instated to the bar and go on with successful legal careers. They continue with their lives and accepted by the public as if nothing had ever happened. Hobbs asked, “They are in the law business too, why should I be treated any differently?”

But does Hobbs actually have enough support to be a real contender?  An unscientific poll conducted by the Sun Herald, Jan. 26, after the newspaper posted an online story on Hobbs indicates that even this far out from the election, and without any campaign advertising or speeches, he has significant support. The Sun Herald actually ran two versions of the same poll changing the results without any explanation.

The newspaper's first version left out one of the contenders and the newspaper, without an announcement, modified the poll and reset the count.  (You can see the numbers of the two polls by Clicking Here) GCN was alerted to the change by some posters to the GCN Message Board.

Hobbs said his age should not be a factor. “I am kind-of like Ronald Reagan, he is my role model here,” Hobbs said adding, “I’m an independent Republican. I don’t like two or three people telling me what to do.”

Hobbs has specific plans if elected as sheriff. He says that he would make sure the jail is run properly. He believes the situation at the jail got completely out of hand. He doesn’t support privatizing the jail. Hobbs said he would also put more jail inmates to work on community projects, and cleaning streets among other tasks.

“And I’d like to see the jailers better paid.”

Regarding the sheriff department overall, Hobbs said he would like to see a smaller force with better pay and uniforms with each deputy wearing a proper hat. He believes that the sheriff department does not need as many deputies as a result of the recent annexations from Biloxi and Gulfport, which have reduced the patrol area that the county had when he was sheriff years ago. He told GCN that he would like to see the sheriff department out of the cities and out of D’Iberville. Currently, the City of D’Iberville pays for the sheriff department to patrol the city. The city itself doesn’t have a police department.

Hobbs is also critical of the current sheriff hiring-out security for the county courthouse and buildings. “That is the role of the sheriff,” Hobbs said.

Regarding his political campaign, Hobbs said, “I’m going to put everything I can into it. That’s the only way I know how to do it...If people don’t know me, they just need to ask.”

Harrison County Sheriff Online: http://www.harrisoncountysheriff.com/

Current List of Harrison County Sheriff Candidates 2/11/07
Melvin Brisolara, R
John A. Finnegan, Jr., R
Anderson D. Hall, D
Howard Leroy Hobbs, I
Neil Resh, R
Glen Terrell, R

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