Will Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, fierce Newsom critic, run for governor in 2026?

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While most eyes are trained on this year’s General Election, a handful of lawmakers and political figures in California have a different race on their minds: the state’s gubernatorial contest in 2026. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco is the latest name on a growing list of potential contenders, representing the most conservative voice so far to consider the office.

The Southern California official has been approached in recent months by elected officials and leaders looking to throw Bianco’s name into the mix, POLITICO first reported, signaling some organized efforts by the state’s minority Republicans to put forward their own candidate.

“California has a lot of problems and they’re looking outside the Sacramento political class to bring the state back,” Bianco’s adviser, Nick Mirman told POLITICO, but clarified the sheriff has not made any decisions nor has there been a public commitment to run.

Bianco a controversial sheriff in Southern California

Bianco has attracted attention far beyond his Southern California district since winning election in 2018, from frequent interviews with Fox News to a succession of controversial policies and remarks on COVID-19, immigration and crime. His office has also been hit by several lawsuits and investigations.

The number of incarcerated people who have died in Riverside County’s jails skyrocketed in recent years, with 2022’s 19 deaths the highest since records were first made public decades ago. In response, the county’s Board of Supervisors in recent weeks has explored separating the Coroner’s office, which certifies causes of death including those who have died in police custody, from the sheriff’s department.

The California attorney general launched a 2023 investigation into whether Riverside County Sheriff’s Department practices violated civil rights, citing a sharp and “disturbing” rise in deaths in the county’s jails, as well as allegations of excessive force. A 2022 Desert Sun investigation found Bianco’s department broke the law when it failed to report some inmates’ deaths to the state Department of Justice within 10 days.

The Desert Sun reported on how the sheriff’s department failed to report some of these deaths to the California Department of Justice and on families that have described not receiving details about the deaths of their relatives for up to a year and a half. California Attorney General Rob Bonta opened a civil rights investigation last year after several families who have filed civil lawsuits asked for an outside agency to investigate the surge in deaths.

Who else is considering a run for California governor in 2026?

So far, those to either declare their candidacy or are reportedly mulling the 2026 race to succeed Gov. Gavin Newsom are prominent Democrats. The list includes Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, former Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and former state Controller Betty Yee. Bonta is expected to enter the race, and POLITICO reported Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is considering leaving the Biden administration to run for the governorship.

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