Why Would Anyone Want Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Endorsement?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will campaign with the controversial Arizona lawman in N.H. this week. It's not clear why he thinks that's a good idea.
arpaio.reuters.banner.jpgTexas Gov. Rick Perry has had a tough go of it since entering the race for the Republican nomination for president. He's struggled during debates. He's blown some speeches. And he has crashed from first to the middle of the pack in most recent polls. But this week the candidate hopes to start heading up the ladder again with an endorsement he's expected to receive from Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio, a vainglorious autocrat of dubious achievement who has made a career out of calling himself the "toughest sheriff" in America.

Over the weekend, ABC News reported that Arpaio and Perry will campaign together this week in New Hampshire. Sheriff Joe reportedly was a "much sought after" endorsement for the candidates because of his sharply conservative views on immigration. ABC says that Perry won the fight for Arpaio's endorsement over fellow candidates Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, each of whom evidently made their pitch to get Sheriff Joe into their respective corners. Bachmann even called Arpaio one of her "heroes."

That such a battle would have occurred among Republicans, and that the beleaguered Perry would think that Arpaio will help rescue his flailing campaign, is just one of the many mind-bending absurdities of the 2012 race. Arpaio may be nationally known, and raucus on the stump, but he's made a terrible mess of his own job in Maricopa County, which is littered with litigation over his policies and practices. "Do as I say not as I do," is a terrible campaign slogan. And yet it is all Arpaio can candidly say when he vouches for his new pal Perry.

Sheriff Joe, for example, cannot say with a straight face that he recognizes good governance when he sees it. In June, for example, Arpaio settled an embarrassing lawsuit, brought by the Justice Department, which alleged that he was illegally withholding documents relating to a civil rights investigation. When the feds sued Arpaio in 2010, government lawyers said they hadn't seen such an example of local intransigence since the Civil Rights era. Arpaio spent public time and money fighting the lawsuit-- before caving in and abiding by the law.

What hasn't fully settled yet for Sheriff Joe is the fallout from two significant local investigations into fiscal mismanagement in his Maricopa County offices. In April, for example, The Arizona Republic reported that Arpaio's office misspent $99.5 million in public funds -- money for inmates was used to pay officials' salaries. In May, the former chief financial officer of the County told the paper that she "repeatedly" told Arpaio about the problem before it came to light. And how did Sheriff Joe respond? Here's what Loretta Barkell said:

The sheriff waved his hand and said he was not allowing the bean counters to manage his operations, that the budget people, the accounting people, personnel people would have to figure it out and fix it. But he was not going to change his decisions on how he was managing his staff.

The problem evidently is so bad in Maricopa County that investigators from neighboring Pinal County had to come in to investigate allegations about the alleged conduct of some of Arpaio's top officials. Again, a great deal of Arpaio's time and taxpayer funds were spent. Again, the investigation revealed problems with Arpaio and his people. In fact, Pinal County spent six-figures identifying some of what went wrong under Sheriff Joe's watch. Here's how The Republic characterized the extent of the damage so far:
 

The $102,000 spent investigating the memo's claims is a fraction of what has been spent by the county on internal battles. The tab so far totals more than $5.6 million, most of that spent on legal costs tied to more than a dozen lawsuits between the Board of Supervisors and Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. More than $177 million in notices of claims or lawsuits have been filed by judges, county supervisors, current and former employees and one private citizen. They were targeted by public-corruption probes initiated by Thomas and Arpaio's office. The claims and suits allege malicious prosecution or false statements by those on both sides of the county conflict.

Even within the last two weeks we've gotten a glimpse of the chaos Arpaio has wrought upon both his bosses and his constituents. In 2009, he improperly purchased a $456,000 customized bus for his office. On November 16th, over two years later, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors finally approved the purchase, contorting their precedent to do so. Is Rick Perry going to employ the same buy-first, justify-later financial policies of his endorser? Is he going to run the White House the way Sheriff Joe runs his sheriff's office?

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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