Why Would Anyone Want Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Endorsement?

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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?

It gets worse. Earlier this month, Maricopa County paid a $1 million settlement to the family of a man who died in Arpaio's custody. Predictably, Sheriff Joe downplayed the death and blamed someone else for the deal. "It was settled due to the nature of doing business," Arpaio told The Arizona Republic. "That (settlement) wasn't up to us, that was the county that decided to settle it. We have nothing to do with this..." Is Rick Perry the sort of stand-up guy that Arpaio is? Does he approve of the tactic? The endorsement makes me wonder.

Joe Arpaio is a divisive figure, with a litany and legacy of fiscal misfeasance, whose constituents have long been protesting in the streets. Surely Rick Perry doesn't want to emulate Arpaio's style or substance. And yet there the candidate will be this week, next to Sheriff Joe, both of them railing against the tyranny of the federal government and the ACLU. If you can measure a man by his friends, what does the union of these two political figures say about Perry? Surely more than we already know about Arpaio.

If the past few local elections in Arizona are any indication, Arpaio is in for a tough reelection battle next fall. That explains why he wants the popular governor in his corner, no matter what happens to Perry between now and then. And Perry wants Arpaio because Sheriff Joe (more so even than Arizona Governor Jan Brewer) has become the embodiment of Arizona's fierce (and pending) immigration battle with the Justice Department. That it's an obvious marriage of political convenience makes it no less of a marriage.

So the man who has fouled his own nest, and brought both expense and infamy to his county and his constituents, believes that Perry ought to be the next president? If that's not the kiss of death for the campaign, I don't know what is. I don't see how the Texas governor can preach fiscal responsibility on the one hand and shake Arpaio's hand with the other. And I don't see how Perry can argue to the nation that he's a competent public servant while he's soaking up praise from a man whose managerial incompetence has for so long been so plain to see.

Image credit: REUTERS/Rick Scuter


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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, 60 Minutes' first-ever legal analyst, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. He is also chief analyst for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal journalists. More

Cohen is the winner of the American Bar Association’s 2012 Silver Gavel Award for his Atlantic commentary about the death penalty in America and the winner of the Humane Society’s 2012 Genesis Award for his coverage of the plight of America’s wild horses. A racehorse owner and breeder, Cohen also is a two-time winner of both the John Hervey and O’Brien Awards for distinguished commentary about horse racing.

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