Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Have run-ins with Washington cost him votes at home?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has always won election easily in Arizona's Maricopa County. But this year, after dabbling in birther politics and being sued for alleged racial profiling, he is running hard.

Joshua Lott/Reuters
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks during a campaign rally in Mesa, Arizona, October 27. Arpaio is running for a sixth term and will challenge former Phoenix police officer Paul Penzone for Maricopa County Sheriff during the general election in November.

In nearly two decades as sheriff in Arizona's most populous county, Joe Arpaio's carefully crafted reputation for being fearless and tough on crime helped him coast to victory time and again. But as he seeks a sixth term, the veteran lawman is running hard to keep his seat.

In TV campaign ads and event appearances, Sheriff Arpaio has been forced to tone down his brashness, fend off accusations of racial discrimination against Latinos, and counter recurring complaints over what critics say were lax investigations of sex crimes against children.

"It's been nasty," admits the Maricopa County sheriff, a Republican.

Long known in Arizona for his penchant to engage in unorthodox law enforcement tactics, such as outfitting inmates in pink underwear, Arpaio was thrust onto the national stage in recent years for his crusade against illegal immigration.

His sweeps in mostly Latino neighborhoods and his unwavering support for the state's divisive immigration law, SB 1070, won him admirers near and far. But it also brought lawsuits from Latinos and the Obama administration over various accusations that included racial profiling.

Arpaio's critics now are training the spotlight on his legal troubles in an effort to persuade voters that it's time for a new sheriff in town.

"This is the toughest race he's had so far," says David Berman, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

"I think there's a little bit of fatigue, he's been in office for 20 years, he's 80 years old," he adds. "He's been very controversial, and I think people are getting a little bit tired of him, frankly."

Although Arpaio still boasts bedrock support from his party, his foray earlier this year into the birther movement that questions President Obama's birthplace failed to win over GOP allies in the state legislature. Arpaio's probe, which rendered Obama's birth certificate fake, went nowhere.

Critics say Arpaio wasted precious resources on investigating a much-debunked theory outside of his jurisdiction that would've been better spent working cases in Maricopa County.

"Obviously, that upset a lot of people," says Carlos Sierra, co-chair of Citizens for Professional Law Enforcement, an anti-Arpaio group.

"He's just completely made that office a joke," adds Mr. Sierra, a Republican who has joined forces with Democrats and independents to target Arpaio.

The group recently launched a series of TV and radio ads that portray the sheriff in a negative light and encourage voters to cast a ballot for his main rival, Paul Penzone.

Mike Stauffer is in the race as an independent candidate, but it is Penzone, an articulate, retired police officer in his mid-40s, who has secured the endorsement of various Latino groups that Arpaio has alienated.

The sheriff won't give either of his opponents the time of day, let alone participate in a debate.

"Everybody knows around the world what I do, so there's nothing to debate about," he says.

That attitude riles his critics.

"This is the man with the largest budget in the county that will not debate because he's afraid, he's running from his record," says Randy Parraz of Citizens for a Better Arizona.

Energized by its successful push last year to recall former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the Republican architect of SB 1070, Mr. Parraz's group has since worked to unseat the sheriff.

But just as Parraz, politicos, activists, and Latino organizations turn up the heat, plenty of GOP faithful still back Arpaio. Polls by the two parties –there are no independent polling numbers for the sheriff’s race – show him still in the lead, and supporters have made his campaign the most well-funded, with more than $8 million in contributions, mostly from out of state.

The support Arpaio still enjoys – including that of a faded Hollywood star – was evident at an event last weekend in the east Phoenix suburb of Mesa.

"Joe Arpaio is one of the last American heroes who not only enforces the laws that he's supposed to enforce, but he's not afraid to stand up for what he believes in," actor Steven Seagal, who has participated in the sheriff's immigration raids, told an effusive crowd.

In an area that leans Republican, those attending the event were firmly planted in the sheriff's corner. Many held signs that read, "Fire Obama."

To Steve Han, the negative ads and allegations swirling around Arpaio are nothing but political slander in an election year. He doesn't believe a word.

Arpaio is doing an all-around competent job and deserves to stay in office, Mr. Han adds.

"If things are going the way they're supposed to be going,” he says, “and the job is getting done by someone with experience, there's no reason to change."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Have run-ins with Washington cost him votes at home?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today