by Conor Friedersdorf
A reader writes:
I work in politics in Arizona. I've been involved in nonprofit advocacy work, campaign work, and I've worked with legislators. Everything I've done has been on the Democratic side for the most part, but we've worked across the state with lots of groups and I've interacted with Republicans in many different contexts.
Bottom line - Arpaio is perhaps the best representative of the true base of the GOP in this state. The more people attack him, the higher his ratings go up. Most establishment Democrats in Arizona believe that, especially considering what's happened in previous years. One person I've worked with closely in the past worked at the highest levels in the Napalitano administration for most of her time in as Governor. This person explained to me that Janet got heat from the left over most of her tenure for not being tougher with Joe and holding him accountable. But her people knew that Janet walked a tight rope - she won by less than a point in 2002 - and was really the only thing keeping the right-dominated legislature from passing whatever they wanted. So she erred on the side of a general hands-off approach, and won Joe's silence for the most part. His aggression was not something they wanted to have to deal with, particularly because of how intrusive and invasive Arpaio's methods are.
But let's not forget we're in a state that effectively voted by referendum NOT to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the 90's. There are several very conservative blocs in our state, ranging from Mormons to Minuteman supporters, and they all seem to love Arpaio. He brings constant attention to the issue of illegal immigration and knows how far he can push the limits of the law. Some of us feel like we live in a police state, but he makes a lot of people feel safer (though I imagine they would feel differently if they were Hispanic).
This anecdote sums it up nicely, I think. Last week I was at a get together at a friend's house. There were a few of us there that work in politics, and there were also several students from Arizona State University. One of the students brought up a study they had done on Arpaio's prison culture (tents, concrete floors, pink clothing+handcuffs, etc.). "It's just unnecessarily cruel," he said, "and I don't think it should be legal to treat someone like that if they're being incarcerated by the state."Another student in the group, someone who we've hung out with occasionally and is generally a pretty quiet guy, spoke up.
"I don't know. I mean, he is pretty effective.""Pretty effective." There are some people who are focused only on ends. It's not about what Joe Arpaio does. It's why he does it. And to these people, a man who won't stop at degradation and home invasion to keep illegal immigrants out of the country is a patriot, and nothing less.
His most ardent reliable base is in the retirement (55+) "communities" developments where fear of immigrants and nostalgia for "law and order" play very well for his fund raising and vote generation. His tactics will cost this county bankrupting insurance premiums in the near future from wrongful death lawsuits and countless investigations by his staff and those investigating him. His egomania and paranoia are unbounded. All of this is abetted by media puff pieces with the exception of the Phoenix New Times. I moved from there last year. When I return I will live in Tucson.
A 25 year resident of Arizona:
...Arpaio is media-savvy, and picks his enemies well. By this I don’t mean his foes in county government or in the media, I mean the groups on whom he concentrates the resources of his office. Last night, as every year about this time, all of the TV stations showed footage from this year’s deadbeat dad roundup, along with the smirking Sheriff talking about how terrible it was that kids were going to have a lousy Xmas because these deadbeat dads hadn’t been paying child support. He also goes after animal cruelty cases with a vengeance. I think he has a finely-tuned sense of which “others’ are particularly viewed with scorn by his target supporters, and goes after them with a vengeance. There is no doubt that many Maricopa county residents feel safer as a result of his policies, but also equally that his policies are never designed to impact negatively those supporters who see themselves as law-abiding (and hence won’t ever be in jail), are white (and hence will never be racially profiled), and don’t fit into any of the other classes that he has singled out for opprobrium.
I think I may have some insight into why exactly Joe Arpaio is celebrated here in Arizona. Let me explain by way of a story.
My mother and father are both fairly staunch conservatives from the Goldwater school of thought. They both voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004. In 2006, my father was called to serve on a jury relating to the death of one Charles Agster III, who died inside one of Joe Arpaio's jails.
Details of the verdict are here.The perspective from the token liberal paper in town that has been hectoring Arpaio for years is here.
My father spent 7 weeks in the courtroom reviewing the facts of the case. When it was also over and I had been told what case he had been on, I went to him to hear his side of it. My father has always been a very stoic and organized man, so the jumbled and emotional tale he told me struck me. He found very little fault with the individual officers or the poor nurse in the situation and directed most of his ire towards the leadership of Sheriff's department. He specifically recalled the testimony Sheriff Joe gave as a low point in the trial. It was a great moment of bonding for us, because I had been following and talking about my negative views of Sheriff Joe for some time before this.
A couple years later, Joe was facing a very hard re-election from the Democratic challenger. Every politician and paper, even the conservative major daily the Arizona Republic endorsed the challenger. And despite it all, Joe won again.
I know that my mother voted for Arpaio that year. She loves the way he 'enforces all the laws', which is conservative code in my family for cracking down on illegal immigration. The story of my father's experience in the trial merely led her to blame Charles Agster's family for letting their son be so out of control.Most tellingly, my father would not tell me how he voted. He votes every year without fail, and usually a straight Republican ticket. But even after being forced to look straight into the depth of corruption that has occurred under Joe's administration, he wouldn't or couldn't reject it outright.
Sheriff Joe's whole shtick is about how tough he is on crime. And my parents don't really care about the particulars of how that happens. To them, stories of immigrants skirting the law or committing crimes are tragedies that must be stopped. And just how Palin's supporters rally behind her more as people point out her mistakes and shortcomings, people like my parents rally around Joe the more it seems he's being ganged-up on.