As if to prove the tired axiom about the wicked taking no rest, former Maricopa County and “America’s Toughest” Sheriff Joe Arpaio has announced that he is going to be running for Senate in Arizona.
I can’t believe I feel compelled to write this, but here we go anyway: Joe Arpaio would be a bad Senator. Okay? To borrow the parlance of the President (an Arpaio supporter), he would be, like, really bad. His continued disdain for due process, fundamental human rights, law and order, and the basic precepts of American equality and fairness more than disqualify him from the office.
If the Republican voters of Arizona have any integrity, they will kill this egotism in its infancy, because if anyone could be more damaging to their party’s brand than the slowly imploding President, it is Joe Arpaio.
While I’m making statements for posterity, let me say that nothing would make me happier than spending the rest of this column cataloging all the ways in which I think Arpaio is unfit to run anything more complex than a bath. However, I’m going to resist that impulse and instead refer you to this excellent article by Ryan Ross cataloging some of Arpaio’s most unsavory qualities.
Instead, I would like to focus on his conviction, pardon and forced re-entry into the political sphere and focus on strategies that might keep his new foray into the public eye as brief as possible.
Despite draconian practice in his infamous “Tent City”, a place where inmates were routinely malnourished, denied sleep, underclothed, threatened and otherwise kept in conditions of such depravity and degradation that one man died in his bed; despite his unconstitutional practice of detaining arrestees who had yet to be tried or convicted in prison facilities; despite the blatant racism inherent in his “crime suppression sweeps” in Latino neighborhoods and the open targeting of Hispanic men in his department’s policing; despite his office fudging the numbers and targeting people with prior convictions to create the illusion of being tough on crime, Joe Arpaio was convicted for criminal contempt.
To break it down, it is illegal in the United States to detain a person who does not have legal residency. Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office made this routine, and when a judge ordered them to stop continued the practice while feigning ignorance. The judge found that Arpaio "willfully violated the order by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates' compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed."
While many Arizona Republicans have decried the conviction as no more than liberal posturing and a desire to take down a hardnosed conservative, the reality remains that Arpaio disobeyed the constitution and implemented police practice that denied basic right before the law. The President, predictably, disagreed, asking a crowd in Phoenix last year, “was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” He pardoned Arpaio in August of 2017.
But let’s be clear, Arpaio committed the crime for which he was convicted. He committed it openly. His flouting of the law is symptomatic of his most dangerous quality, the ‘toughest Sheriff’ syndrome, which to my mind should be the single determining factor in shuttering him out of the Senate race. While Sheriff of Maricopa County he said, “if they don't like what I'm doing get the laws changed in Washington.” What could be less desirable in a Senator than disdain for the legal authority of a federal government in which he is aiming to take part?
Arpaio’s interpretation of jurisprudence is so ass-backward it’s difficult to comprehend. He never saw himself as an enforcer of the law, but as the agent of some righteous crusade that happened to coincide with his role as sheriff.
The danger of the “toughest sheriff” mentality is in its bullshit, wild west fantasy. He sees himself as a maverick, someone who knows better than the government and by proxy, the American people. Joe Arpaio does not believe in the foundational concept of law in the United States – which is that the law as written is to be enforced until a system of due process finds it inadequate and calls for its modification.
For the party that routinely turns to constitutional originalism and the sanctity of the founding document, Arpaio is a strange bedfellow. What could he possibly bring to the table other than an antiquated gunslinger mentality and the kind of lazy racism that appeals to the disenfranchised?
If the Republican party has any remaining vertebrae, it will end Arpaio’s candidacy swiftly. He could not be less compatible with traditional law and order values.
After Roy Moore, I have lost faith in the Republican party’s ability to make good decisions.
Grasping for a silver lining, I point to the candidacy of Martha McSally, a veteran, critic of the President and Arizona’s best hope for knocking Arpaio out of the race. While her voting record points to an agenda very similar to the White House’s, at least her record on human rights abuse is squeaky clean.
There is also the cold comfort of a statement offered by Jeff Flake, the departing Arizona Senator, who said of Arpaio’s candidacy, “Write about it fast cause it won't last long.”
Alright, I’ve written about it. I hope he’s right about the second part.