Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Sheriff Joe I Know

The Minnesota Tea Party Alliance announced the other day that Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be headlining their first quarter Tea Party event.

This confuses me, as I’m not sure how Arpaio fits in with the Tea Party’s principles of Free Markets, Fiscal Responsibility, and Limited Government- specifically the last two.

I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, which is in Maricopa county, for a few years, starting in 2008. I was excited to be living in the county that was protected by the man who calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff.

Like most people who don’t live in Arizona, I was familiar with Arpaio through his national media interviews. (I later learned he never gives local interviews.)  In those appearances he would put forth his best “tough guy” routine and talk about how he doesn’t take no guff from nobody. He makes the inmates wear pink underwear. He feeds them on pennies per day, etc.

His media team has done well in developing his old-time, wild-west county sheriff image. I bought it, hook line and sinker.

If you were to search the campaign finance records in Arizona, you’d see me listed as a donor to the Sheriff. That donation was made in 2008, shortly after I arrived in Phoenix.

Sheriff Joe has perfected the “I’m under attack and I need your money to fight back” routine. (Remind you of anyone?)  I threw him a few bucks. I voted for him. He won. It wasn’t close.

It was only after I got more involved in Arizona politics that the real Joe Arpaio started to become clear.

Arpaio’s opponent in 2008 was Dan Saban, the former Police Chief of Buckeye, AZ. He ran against Arpaio in 2004 as a Republican, and then decided to try as a Democrat in 2008.

To be sure, Saban was a deeply flawed candidate, but his loss was guaranteed, in part, by illegal collusion between the Arizona Republican Party and a supposed independent group called the Sheriff’s Command Association (SCA) that was run by Arpaio’s chief deputy, David Hendershott.

SCA gave money to AZGOP, which ran an ad a few days before the election accusing Saban of raping his mother. Yes, you read that right. The earmarking of the money for the ad was illegal. (more here)

In 2010, I was an advisor for the campaign of Rick Romley for Maricopa County Attorney. Romley was the county attorney from 1989 -  2004, when he retired. After Arpaio ally county attorney Andrew Thomas resigned amid scandal (he was later disbarred, and is now running for governor) Romley was appointed interim county attorney until a special election was called, and decided to run for another full term.

Romley ran on a platform, in part, of reigning in Arpaio, who was seen as having free reign under the Thomas administration.

Arpaio, sensing that his life would be quite a bit harder under an independent county attorney, spent over $700,000 of his own campaign cash campaigning against Romley.

The sheriff ran ads against the county attorney, in a year the sheriff wasn’t up for election. For this, he was fined $154,000 for violating Arizona’s campaign finance laws. (For reference, Arpaio only spent $540,000 on his own campaign in 2008.)

The Arizona Republic has a great recap of Arpaio’s career in an article entitled Joe Arpaio, America’s most expensive sheriff.

That article lists some of that particular highlights of Arpaio’s tenure as sheriff, like the $17 million in lawsuit settlements that Maricopa County has paid out (so far), and the added cost to taxpayers from the burden of new measures the Sheriff’s office is forced to take after a Federal Judge found the department guilty of repeated civil rights violations. It only touches on the use of the laughably named “anti-corruption unit” as a tool to punish political enemies.

The Minnesota Tea Party Alliance claims to stand for Fiscal Responsibility and Limited Government. I wonder if they were aware of Arpaio’s true record when they invited him to speak. I’m sure like most people outside Arizona, the organizers were only aware of Joe from his national media, like I was before 2008.

Now that they know the rest of the story, I hope they rescind the invitation, because Joe’s record sure doesn’t sound like fiscal responsibility or limited government to me.