Sheriff Joe

Instructive lesson of Sheriff Joe 5/27/17

Article: "Lexington: the impeachment delusion"      

> A look at Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe and how his gimmicks, outrageous actions and conservative rhetoric eventually left the voters cold. A possible template for how the nation might recover from the Trump Presidency.

> From the article: Happily, there are recent, real-world examples of patience working, and snarling populists losing office by outstaying their welcome. One of the most instructive involves Joe Arpaio, a law-and-order showman defeated last year as he sought his seventh term as elected sheriff of Maricopa County—a sprawling, sun-baked tract of Arizona that includes the city of Phoenix and is home to nearly 4m people. A concise explanation of Mr Arpaio’s defeat is that locals grew weary of his distracting antics, even if the sheriff was a star of conservative talk radio and TV.

> Mr Arpaio, who styled himself “Sheriff Joe” and “America’s Toughest Sheriff”, was an authoritarian impresario. He housed county prisoners outdoors in tents, even as temperatures reached 145°F (63°C), made them wear pink underwear and put them in chain gangs. He recruited a posse of volunteer sheriff’s deputies, who sport police uniforms and roar about in patrol cars. When that felt old, in 2011 Mr Arpaio assigned a five-member “cold-case posse”, financed by conservatives across the country, to investigate whether Barack Obama had faked evidence of his birth in America. While lesser rivals acquired military hardware from the Pentagon, Mr Arpaio secured a tank (actually a self-propelled howitzer). He made the action film star Steven Seagal a posse member and let him drive that tank through a local man’s garden wall in search of illegal cockfighting. Sheriff Joe’s fans cheered when he ordered immigration sweeps that targeted people who appeared to be non-white or Hispanic. He was an early Trump backer, declaring: “Everything that I believe in, he believes in.”

> By 2016 many conservatives had stopped chortling. County taxpayers had by then paid tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements for lawsuits against the sheriff’s department, including for prisoner deaths. Mr Arpaio faced charges for criminal contempt, after allegedly defying court rulings to stop racial profiling. The Pentagon asked for its hardware back after several weapons were lost. Amid this dysfunction a veteran Phoenix police sergeant, Paul Penzone, ran for sheriff as a Democrat and won. He did not call Arpaio supporters bigots. He told them that their money had been squandered and that law enforcement had suffered. That back-to-work message won Mr Penzone 158,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton received in Maricopa County, as he picked up support from Republicans who were either embarrassed by Mr Arpaio, or decided that he was a blowhard who bored them. Sheriff Joe’s gimmicks “weren’t doing it for him any more”, summarizes David Berman, a political scientist at Arizona State University. At some point, “people say, can you do the job?”