Ar­paio on the ropes in Ari­zona elec­tions

Trail­ing in polls, ‘Amer­ica’s Tough­est Sher­iff’ tries to parry at­tacks

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

PHOENIX | Mari­cruz Ramirez can’t even vote, but she’s do­ing ev­ery­thing she can to get oth­ers to turn out on Elec­tion Day to de­feat Mari­copa County Sher­iff Joe Ar­paio.

An il­le­gal im­mi­grant from Mex­ico, Ms. Ramirez led a group of im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists as they went door to door, hop­ing to find young or in­fre­quent vot­ers they could en­tice to turn out, em­bold­ened by the prospect of tak­ing out the Repub­li­can law­man who’s been dubbed “Amer­ica’s Tough­est Sher­iff.” This could well be the year. After cruis­ing to elec­tion in his first five races, Sher­iff Ar­paio barely topped 50 per­cent of the vote in a three-way race in 2012, and Paul Pen­zone — the Demo­crat who was part of that three-way race the last time — is lead­ing the sher­iff in the lat­est polling this year. In fact, it’s not even close: An Ari­zona State Univer­sity/Ari­zona Repub­lic poll re­leased last week put Mr. Pen­zone at 45.9 per­cent sup­port and Sher­iff Ar­paio at just 31.1 per­cent.

Some an­a­lysts have ques­tioned that poll’s sam­ple — and the tim­ing. It was taken just as the Jus­tice Depart­ment an­nounced it was pur­su­ing crim­i­nal con­tempt charges against the sher­iff, ac­cus­ing him of con­tin­u­ing racial pro­fil­ing against His­pan­ics de­spite a court set­tle­ment that or­dered him to cease.

Sher­iff Ar­paio calls the ac­cu­sa­tions “a bunch of garbage” and said it wasn’t a coin­ci­dence the charges were an­nounced the day early vot­ing started. He said his op­po­nents, rang­ing from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to bil­lion­aire lib­eral cru­sader Ge­orge Soros and im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists, are pulling out all the stops to de­feat him.

“They’ve been after me since Day One for do­ing my job,” he says in a new cam­paign com­mer­cial. “This is all pol­i­tics. Hil­lary gets a free pass, but they’re com­ing after me?”

Trump ef­fect

The sher­iff might have been a juicy tar­get no mat­ter what, but in 2016 — the year of Don­ald Trump — he’s all the more ripe for the at­tacks.

Long be­fore Mr. Trump won the GOP’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee by stak­ing out a lawand-or­der stance and vow­ing to get tough on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, Sher­iff Ar­paio was do­ing it.

He set up tent cities as jails, even in Phoenix’s pun­ish­ing sum­mer heat, and is­sued pink un­der­wear to in­mates. He also brought back chain gangs.

On im­mi­gra­tion he pi­o­neered a crack­down at the lo­cal level, in­clud­ing train­ing of­fi­cers to en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws and hav­ing his deputies raid work­places where he sus­pected il­le­gal im­mi­grants were work­ing un­der false iden­ti­ties — a vi­o­la­tion of state law.

But the fed­eral gov­ern­ment nixed its train­ing pro­gram, and the sher­iff was forced to can­cel his work­place raids un­der pres­sure from a fed­eral court that said the state laws were likely un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Most re­cently, a fed­eral judge said the sher­iff was thumb­ing his nose at a court or­der de­mand­ing he take steps to halt his deputies’ racial pro­fil­ing dur­ing their stops. The judge rec­om­mended crim­i­nal con­tempt charges, and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion agreed to pur­sue those charges ear­lier this month.

Fur­ther deep­en­ing the Trump-Ar­paio com­par­i­son is both men’s work in ques­tion­ing the cir­cum­stances of Pres­i­dent Obama’s birth — long after the pres­i­dent re­leased his birth cer­tifi­cate. Sher­iff Ar­paio in 2012 had his cold case posse dig into the cer­tifi­cate the White House posted on­line, and as late as this sum­mer, the sher­iff said he still had ques­tions about the pres­i­dent’s birth.

When Sher­iff Ar­paio en­dorsed Mr. Trump dur­ing the GOP’s pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, it seemed to ig­nite the per­fect storm in Ari­zona.

But Sher­iff Ar­paio waves off the com­par­isons, point­ing out that he’s been in pol­i­tics for decades, has a long record to run on and has built up a deep well of sup­port from many of his con­stituents.

“I’m the lone ranger. I ride alone,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times as he waited to speak at a po­lit­i­cal pic­nic. “You don’t see peo­ple endorsing me. I mean, I could, but I don’t. I go to the peo­ple.”

His­panic power

There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of vot­ers who have lit­er­ally never known an­other sher­iff in their lives. The Cen­sus Bu­reau in 1990 — two years be­fore the sher­iff’s first elec­tion vic­tory — put the county’s pop­u­la­tion at 2.1 mil­lion. To­day it stands at 4.2 mil­lion, mak­ing it the na­tion’s fourth-largest.

The His­panic pop­u­la­tion has grown even faster, from 345,000 in 1990 to 1.3 mil­lion now — or nearly a third of the county’s res­i­dents.

“Some peo­ple in this state have lived their en­tire lives with Ar­paio as sher­iff. We are about to knock his ass out,” said Marisa Franco, one of the lead­ers of Bazta Ar­paio, the im­mi­grant rights groups’ ef­fort to un­seat the sher­iff.

Some 200,000 res­i­dents turned 18 since the last sher­iff’s elec­tion, and this year alone the groups say more than 150,000 His­pan­ics have reg­is­tered to vote — nearly twice the sher­iff’s 80,000-vote mar­gin of vic­tory in the last elec­tion.

“This is the time that the com­mu­nity is fed up. In the past there was a lot of fear; the com­mu­nity didn’t come out. The com­mu­nity has lost the fear,” Ms. Ramirez, one of those pre­par­ing to can­vas this week­end, said through a trans­la­tor.

An il­le­gal im­mi­grant who’s been in Mari­copa County for 15 years, Ms. Ramirez said her fam­ily has had its own run-ins with Sher­iff Ar­paio. She said a rel­a­tive was work­ing at an auto me­chanic’s shop when deputies raided it. Most of the em­ploy­ees ran, but her rel­a­tive hid out for more than a day, sleep­ing in his hid­ing place to avoid be­ing nabbed.

Fer­nando Lopez, 25, said he him­self was picked up by deputies and put into de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings un­der Sher­iff Ar­paio’s old agree­ment to help en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion law. Mr. Lopez was even­tu­ally re­leased on bond and, after four years, had his case closed — though he’s still here with­out sta­tus, and does not have a work per­mit.

He said the Ar­paio race is a chance for his com­mu­nity to flex its mus­cle.

“With this move­ment, we want to prove we can take him down,” Mr. Lopez said.

Where a decade ago il­le­gal im­mi­grants were likely to re­main in the shad­ows, hun­dreds of thou­sands have stepped for­ward, pro­tected by Mr. Obama’s de­por­ta­tion poli­cies, and made their voices heard.

Led by young il­le­gal im­mi­grants, dubbed the Dream­ers, they’ve taken spots in the first lady’s box at the State of the Union, have protested on the streets out­side the Capi­tol and have fought in the courts for le­gal pro­tec­tions.

“For so long peo­ple tried to be in­vis­i­ble, keep your head down. But when they go after you, no­body no­tices. That hap­pened for too long. When the Dream­ers started to come out, that took a lot of courage, but that cre­ated a nar­ra­tive,” Mr. Lopez said.

Pur­ple par­adise

Im­mi­gra­tion has be­dev­iled the GOP for years, and Ari­zona is no ex­cep­tion. Even as Sher­iff Ar­paio pushed for a crack­down and the state leg­is­la­ture passed laws test­ing the lim­its of en­force­ment, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Repub­li­cans, led the push for the 2013 im­mi­gra­tion le­gal­iza­tion bill in Congress.

Mr. Trump’s can­di­dacy has deep­ened the rift. Mr. Flake never backed the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man in the pres­i­den­tial race, and has in fact been one of his more vo­cal crit­ics from Congress. Mr. McCain, who is run­ning for his sixth term this year, backed Mr. Trump ear­lier in the gen­eral elec­tion, then with­drew his sup­port after a tape emerged of Mr. Trump brag­ging in 2005 about un­wanted grop­ing of women.

Mr. Flake at­tended the po­lit­i­cal pic­nic and shook hands with Mr. Pen­zone, though he did not ap­pear to ex­change words with Sher­iff Ar­paio. Mr. Pen­zone, the Demo­crat run­ning for sher­iff, even slipped his busi­ness card to the sen­a­tor.

Af­ter­ward, sev­eral Repub­li­can women came up to Mr. Flake to tell him they were up­set he wasn’t back­ing the GOP team, and in­sist­ing they won’t vote for him in 2018, when he’s up for re-elec­tion.

Worse yet for Repub­li­cans, Democrats say the state is on the verge of be­com­ing pur­ple — one of the peren­nial swing states.

Hil­lary Clin­ton is mak­ing a ma­jor push to win Ari­zona, in­clud­ing run­ning a full slate of com­mer­cials at­tack­ing Mr. Trump as un­fit for of­fice. A cash-strapped Mr. Trump, mean­while, is not on the air — though an out­side group has started run­ning ads at­tack­ing Mrs. Clin­ton.

Dom­i­nat­ing the air­waves, how­ever, is Sher­iff Ar­paio. It’s im­pos­si­ble to watch the lo­cal news and not see sev­eral Ar­paio ads. The most prom­i­nent one touts his deputies’ work in go­ing after dead­beat par­ents, but the cam­paign has also added a new one with the sher­iff com­plain­ing about the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s at­tacks.

All of that is fu­eled by the sher­iff’s pro­lific fundrais­ing. As a na­tional fig­ure, he’s able to tap donors across the county, and had raised more than $12 mil­lion as of late Septem­ber. Mr. Pen­zone had raised about $540,000.

“The sher­iff’s go­ing to spend more on ad­ver­tis­ing than the na­tional can­di­dates,” said Richard Her­rera, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Ari­zona State Univer­sity.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The reign of Mari­copa Coun­try Sher­iff Joe Ar­paio, billed as “Amer­ica’s Tough­est Sher­iff” for his ap­proach to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, is in jeop­ardy as Ari­zona’s vot­ers are in­creas­ingly His­panic. Sher­iff Ar­paio’s sup­port of Don­ald Trump may also prove a li­a­bil­ity.

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