Published On: Wed, Feb 21st, 2024

Get to know Michael Gauger: Q & A with GOP candidate for Palm Beach County Sheriff

Gauger is a Republican who is set to face Lauro Diaz in the GOP primary in August. The winner will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Ric Bradshaw and Alexander Freeman

By: Charles Maxwell

Michael Gauger, 76, is a Northern Illinois native who has been in South Florida since 1969. After over 50 years working within the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Gauger is running to replace Ric Bradshaw’s position as sheriff this fall.

Gauger has a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a master’s degree in social work from Barry University. 

Gauger believes there is a lack of integrity in the current agency and the need to reinstate important programs in Palm Beach County to improve the quality of life in its communities has inspired him to run for office. 

His interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You grew up in Northern Illinois; how did you end up with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office in Florida?

A: I left home right after high school and had a variety of different jobs. I worked at a factory assembling televisions, was a route salesman for a big dry-cleaning company, and then worked for a general finance loan company. 

When I came back home, I was fed up with Illinois and the brutal winters. I was working a full-time job and a part-time job. One of the guys I was working with at my part-time job at a men’s clothing store had relatives in Florida. At the time, I was thinking about going to Colorado or something… but he said, “Nah, let’s go to Florida.” 

We took a bus to Chattanooga, Tennessee… from there, we hitchhiked to Florida. When I got down here, nobody would hire me. I got three part-time jobs and eventually met some guys in the sheriff’s office, and they talked me into putting in an application.

Q: How did you settle on a career in law enforcement, and what transpired throughout the early stages of your career in Palm Beach County?

A: I had always loved law enforcement… back in the day, I was a huge JFK fan. I remember one day when I was sitting in English class, I found out he was assassinated… that got me interested in law enforcement and the Secret Service. 

When I got down to Florida, the sheriff’s office talked to me about working in an undercover capacity. I had real blonde hair, was a little slender guy and looked younger than my years. I started working undercover narcotics for them and worked myself into an organized crime gambling ring. I ended up living in a halfway house [for the sheriff’s office] where narcotics were being sold, and eventually busted the place.

I got hired full-time in January 1971, and the rest is history.

Q: Was there any specific incident that made you think it was time to take the next step and run for sheriff?

A: It’s a whole series of things. I’m a community advocate and have always believed in community. I’ve always fought the traditional policing model, you know, the old hook-em and book-em, nail-em and jail-em. 

When I started in law enforcement, I was ordered to stay in my car and drive through neighborhoods; they didn’t want you out of your vehicle and in the communities. They judged the work you did by the miles on your car. 

[In this policing model], you get to know absolutely no one. I would always get in trouble because I was always trying to connect with the community, make contacts, and talk to kids. One time, I went into a neighborhood where some burglaries and juvenile crimes had occurred. I took my gun belt off and went to shoot baskets with them. A sergeant pulled up and saw me playing with the kids… I thought I was going to get fired. I did get into trouble.

I’ve always believed in this way of policing… getting into the community and making connections. And this way, when crimes occurred, people trusted me. They shared information with me, and instead of running away from me, kids would run to me.

The sheriff’s office should be building partnerships- not just with people in the neighborhoods but with all the agencies that should be involved.

Q: One of your goals is to reinstitute and strengthen programs in Palm Beach County that improve the quality of life, such as the “Mental Health Unit.” Why are these programs so important to you?

A: I was an adopted child of a farm family in the Northern Illinois area. My adoptive parents provided me with a strong upbringing. I always say I had a drug problem growing up… they drug me to church, drug me to school, and drug me to the woodshed if I needed it. My father gave me that farm boy work ethic, and that’s stayed with me for my entire life… but my adopted parents became alcoholics. 

[Because of that], I learned what mental health issues were and became very sensitive to them. One of my part-time jobs was teaching DUI school for 33 years, helping people recognize that they had alcohol problems and getting them into treatment. I’ve taught drug education courses for the county and started serving on boards for recovery programs for over 30 years.

Q: Any Republican running for Sheriff in Palm Beach County is facing an uphill battle, as Democrat Ric Bradshaw has held office as sheriff for the past two decades. Why do you think now is when Democrats and independents should vote for you?

A: The current sheriff has been spending [money] foolishly over the years. That’s the difference between us… It’s insane how he spends money. Instead of giving leftover money back to the county, he would tell people in different divisions to go and buy whatever they wanted.

A lot of the employees within the department believe that there is no integrity in the testing process. More discipline is needed as well. 

Final message to voters:

I believe in community. I want to bring community policing back to the sheriff’s office. You can have all the tactical teams, task forces, and swat teams that run into a neighborhood to arrest people and put people in jail… but how many of those people stay in jail?

It’s about getting kids away from gangs and having productive lives. Getting into those neighborhoods and changing lives.

About the Author

- Charles Maxwell is an intern for the Boca Raton Tribune. He's a senior multimedia journalism major at Florida Atlantic University and can be reached at

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