Voters in a southeast Texas county elected a Black, Democratic woman as sheriff while choosing Republican Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, an unusual result in a year of partisan acrimony.
Some voters in Jefferson County ended up crossing party lines to cast their ballots for who they thought was the best candidate in each of the races — defying the practice of party line voting in an election that showed a deep red-blue political divide.
When Zena Stephens takes office Jan. 1, she will join Vanessa Crawford in Petersburg, Virginia, as the only Black women sheriffs in the U.S., according to the National Sheriff’s Association.
Stephens credited her win in the sheriff’s race to her long history in the community and to relationships she’s built across political party lines.
“There are people in our community who had positive past experiences with me who certainly were Republican. Certainly I got some of those votes,” said Stephens, who defeated retired Beaumont police Lt. Ray Beck.
Of the county’s more than 254,000 residents, 34% are Black and nearly 20% are Hispanic.
Trump barely edged out Clinton with about 49% of the vote, while Stevens got 51%.
Stephens, who is 51 and said she voted for Clinton, began her law enforcement career with the Beaumont Police Department in 1989.
She spent 7½ years with the agency before taking a year off from law enforcement. Stephens then spent about 17 years with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Since 2013, she has been chief of the police department at Prairie View A&M University, located about 50 miles northwest of Houston.
Stephens said she wasn’t thinking about making history when she was elected Texas’ first Black woman sheriff.