Denton County Sheriff Candidate Randy Butler Pushed Marijuana Decriminalization and Lost

Denton County Sheriff candidate Randy Butler decided to run for office for one reason: to challenge Sheriff Will Travis' stance on marijuana.

Butler's inspiration was watching a 2015 video of Travis in Austin testifying against a change in marijuana policy. Travis, a former DEA agent, confused marijuana with hemp while speaking out against House Bill 3185, which sought to allow the medical prescription of low-level THC cannabis oils. The bill didn’t pass, forcing some medical marijuana patients in Texas to seek refuge in places like Colorado where it’s available.

Despite having no prior law enforcement experience, Butler announced his candidacy under the Libertarian Party banner before the Republican primary in March. Travis lost against his Republican challenger Tracy Murphree, leaving Butler to face off against a seasoned Texas Ranger. Travis also came with personal and professional baggage that had been covered in local media, including the Dallas Observer. But instead of Travis, Butler faced a capable, experienced opponent, leaving many people believing the libertarian didn’t stand a chance.

They were right. Butler lost in a landslide: 45,386 for Butler to 183,646 for Murphree.

"I truly hope and pray that true change toward freedom happens soon," Butler said after the defeat. "It wasn't found in this race today. Denton County has voted for the status quo of big government overreach, back up by law enforcement's threat of jail. The war on drugs will continue, civil asset forfeiture will continue, and the good ol' boy system will continue."

Butler's stances made him a long shot in a conservative county. His support of marijuana legalization and desire to end civil forfeiture, a major source of police revenue, didn't win him support among law enforcement or political leaders.

But Denton County voters also didn’t know who he was. He became a ghost not long after he announced his candidacy. Butler didn’t run any political ads on television and didn’t buy space on Facebook. He rarely appeared in public and never debated Murphree on why he was a better choice than the career law enforcement officer.

Butler is a plant manager at Fly Ash terminal, and promised his boss that his candidacy wouldn't interfere with work. “We had a change in my job,” Butler said. “I got super busy.”

On election day Butler acknowledged his weakness as a candidate. "I'm a horrible politician but I'm a good human," he wrote on Facebook. "Thank you for your vote."

Butler may have stood a chance to gain ground after Murphree became entangled in a social media controversy in late April when he posted on Facebook that he’d beat a transgender woman caught in the bathroom with his daughter.  

Amber Briggle, a mother of a transgender child, called out Murphree on his Facebook page.  “I know you are a protective parent, but SO AM I,” Briggle wrote. “If my son were to walk into a women's room, looking the way he does, he would no doubt be corrected and sent to the men's room.”

Murphree eventually apologized for the comment and indicated his comments were directed at sexual predators. “This isn’t an anti-transgender issue,” Murphree told the Observer in late April. “It’s a safety issue. I’m not afraid of transgenders. I’m afraid of who will take advantage of the rules to get close to kids. The rights of transgenders do not trump the rights of everyone else.”

Yet, Butler was nowhere to be found to capitalize on the comments.

Butler said he didn’t set out to be just a name on a ballot and he admits his inexperience in the political arena hurt his chances to win. But he doesn’t regret his decision to run for office. “At one time, black people couldn’t eat and women couldn’t vote,” Butler said. “All it takes is for one person to stand up and say no more. At some point someone needs to stand up and change the status quo, or we are going to have a huge mess.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.