After six terms as Arizona's enforcer sheriff, Joe Arpaio loses to Democrat

Joe Arpaio, the controversial longtime sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., was defeated by Democrat Paul Penzone 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent.

Paul Sancya/AP
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona walks on the stage to speak during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21.

Joe Arpaio, the longtime sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., was voted out of office on Tuesday, marking the end of his controversial six-term career. 

Sheriff Arpaio, who became known nationwide for his strict and sometimes unconventional approach to curbing illegal immigration, was defeated 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent by Paul Penzone, a Democrat and a former Phoenix police sergeant who lost to Arpaio in 2012.

The defeat comes weeks after Arpaio was charged with criminal contempt of court for ignoring a court injunction to halt traffic stops of motorists suspected of being in the country illegally. But public opinion may have already been shifting against the controversial sheriff, whose practices included frequent traffic stops, workplace raids, and, previously, housing inmates in outdoor tents, clothing them in pink underwear, and serving them discolored green and blue meat. 

As David Iaconangelo reported for The Christian Science Monitor in August: 

The sheriff's heavy-handed approach to undocumented immigrants at one point made him a hugely popular figure who sailed through re-election with two-thirds of the vote, but as demographics in his county have changed, his popularity has begun a precipitous slide.


Part of the decline in popularity comes from the changing demographics of Maricopa County, which has taken in some 148,000 people from other states and 53,000 from other countries since 2010, according to the Arizona Republic

Retirees, who have long favored the county's dry climate, no doubt make up a major portion of the new residents. But Phoenix and its suburbs, where voters are often younger and more politically liberal, may look less fondly upon Arpaio.

Speculation that the sheriff's popularity may be waning had been mounting in recent years, as Lourdes Medrano reported for the Monitor in 2013.

"I don't think he's the political force he once was," David Berman, a senior fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, told the Monitor at the time. 

Some longtime opponents of Arpaio attributed his defeat Tuesday, in part, to the work done by advocacy groups such as Puente, a group that formed in 2007 in response to Arpaio's embrace of a federal program that enabled his deputies to act as de facto immigration agents. 

"The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear," Carlos Garcia, the executive director of Puente, told The New York Times after the election results were announced Wednesday.

"We knew that losing an election was only a matter of time," Mr. Garcia added. "For us, what is most important now is to undo the damage and culture of hate that he has brought upon this county."

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