Tina Nieto made history on Tuesday, Nov. 8. She is poised to become the first woman, first person of color and first openly gay person to be elected as Monterey County sheriff, and along with two other Latinas who were elected in the June primary, will join a three-person cohort of the first Latina sheriffs in California.
Early results showed her with a substantial lead, 67 percent of the vote, over Joe Moses. When the results first came in around 8:20pm, the crowd at Mo’s River Road Grill erupted in cheers.
Nieto, who is barely more than 5 feet tall, began her remarks with a joke: “I am Tina and I am standing,” she said before the crowd appeared to swallow her up.
“There are a few changes coming to the Sheriff’s Office,” she said. “They’re changes for the good. We’re doing a lot of good work there already—we need to be able to show our communities, and prove it.”
Nieto’s voice began to crack with emotion as she spoke about being a person of faith, and daily prayer during the campaign. “I pray to be a good leader—not to win, but to really do the work for the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office, and help lead us to become the best Sheriff’s Office in the state, if not the nation.” She asked other people of faith to join her in praying in the coming days, “to heal some of the wounds that campaigns cause.” (And, she added: “For those who don’t practice anything, just good thoughts.”)
Guests included the two candidates for sheriff who lost in the primary, Del Rey Oaks/MRY Police Chief Jeff Hoyne and Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Patterson. They also included a number of electeds, like Monterey City Councilmember Ed Smith and Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby, along with many current and former Sheriff’s Office employees. Among the latter group, change was a theme of the night.
“I’m very happy because I know positive change is just around the corner,” says Jose Mendoza, a retired sheriff’s commander and past candidate himself who after meeting Nieto decided to drop out of the 2022 race. “To me, it was a no-brainer—step aside, let her run.”
Chris Barrera, president of the Salinas chapter of LULAC, sees it as critical for an outsider to take the lead. “There would be no change if Tina were not to win,” he says. “Now is the time for somebody new and fresh to come in and clean things up.”
Moses, a current captain in the Sheriff’s Office, oversees the operations of Monterey County Jail. He started Election Day with a grande dark roast and breakfast sandwich at Starbucks before knocking on doors, before the rain kicked in. Even before the results came in, he spoke about a desire to partner post-election: “With Tina having no jail experience whatsoever, I think she’s going to need my expertise there, and I think we can work together.”
Nieto, a 33-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, serves on the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). She says she has spoken to Gov. Gavin Newsom about remaining as a commissioner, and will move from her chief seat to a sheriff seat.
She will continue to serve as the Marina police chief until she resigns to be sworn in as the sheriff. She says she’ll begin the transition process immediately, and within minutes after the first election results came in, had already exchanged text messages with retiring Sheriff Steve Bernal, who congratulated her. Nieto celebrated with a Corona.