Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway has found himself in the public eye again after his admission Thursday that his department erred in arresting County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister.
After 13 years in office, Conway is all too familiar with public scrutiny. He recently declined a request for an interview for a profile story about him by telling a reporter "I'm already too public as it is."
The silver-haired sheriff often lumbers about the office in Western boots and jeans. His cellphone ringtone -- the George Strait song "Cowboys Like Us" -- is a fitting melody for the man who prefers the open spaces of his horse farm in Dacula.
Conway started his law enforcement career in 1973 as a Gwinnett County police officer, and he served for six years as Lawrenceville's police chief before being elected sheriff in 1996. He has remained popular, running unopposed in 2000 and 2008. In 2004 he fended off two challengers and avoided a runoff with 64 percent of the vote.
That may be because Conway rarely backs down on issues he considers important. Deputies began screening illegal immigrants in the jail last year as part of a federal program known as 287(g). Pro-immigrant groups oppose the program and have repeatedly called for Conway to end it. However, Conway has said he believes most people in the county support the program.
The sheriff also stood by the use of Tasers by his deputies even after a third suspect died in 2007 after being shocked with the stun gun.
Within the political arena, Conway has taken gambles that didn't always pay off.
He backed incumbent Chairman Wayne Hill in 2004 when Bannister sought to unseat him. Four years later, he supported former County Commissioner Lorraine Green when she ran against Bannister, in part because she had led a successful effort to get pay raises for deputies.
But Green lost the election, and relations between the sheriff and Bannister have remained frosty since then.
Conway has had several public spats with Bannister. He was miffed in October 2008 when Bannister nixed a bid to have deputies patrol the city of Sugar Hill.
Earlier that same year, the sheriff disagreed with Bannister over the 287(g) program.
With immigration a hot campaign issue, Bannister sent out a news release at the time prodding the sheriff to "get with the program" and support 287(g). Conway countered by questioning whether the county could fund it, saying Bannister would have to "put his money where his mouth is."
Nevertheless, Conway said Thursday that he has no personal dislike of Bannister and the arrest was not politically motivated.
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