Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Voted Out Of Office After Six Terms

Good riddance.

Joe Arpaio

After six terms in office, much of which was marked by controversy surrounding his department’s treatment of criminal suspects, prisoners, and especially immigrants both legal and illegal, the voters of Maricopa County, Arizona voted on Tuesday to deny Joe Arpaio a seventh term in office:

PHOENIX — Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an enduring symbol of Arizona’s unforgiving stance toward illegal immigration, lost his bid for a seventh term on Tuesday, effectively ending the career of perhaps the most divisive law enforcement figure in the country.

In the end, Sheriff Arpaio’s bid for re-election as sheriff of Maricopa County was undone by Latino voters who responded to his hard-line position on illegal immigration, which included workplace raids, frequent traffic stops and harsh talk.

“The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, an advocacy group formed in 2007 to counter the sheriff’s embrace of a federal program that allowed his deputies to act as de facto immigration agents.

“We knew that losing an election was only a matter of time,” Mr. Garcia said. “For us, what is most important now is to undo the damage and culture of hate that he has brought upon this county.”

On Tuesday, Paul Penzone, a Democrat and a former Phoenix police sergeant who lost to Sheriff Arpaio in 2012, won the rematch, 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent, and will be the next sheriff of Maricopa County.

The race attracted millions of dollars from outside the state, a testament to the outsize role Sheriff Arpaio, 84, has played in the national debate over immigration overhaul. George Soros, a liberal investor, for example, spent more than $2 million opposing the sheriff.

Sheriff Arpaio remained combative until the end, thumbing his nose at critics and turning setbacks into lines of attack. He blamed “the corrupt Obama Justice Department” for trying to influence the race when federal prosecutors announced that they would pursue criminal contempt-of-court charges against him for refusing a judge’s order to stop discriminating against Latinos.

“I’m kind of a trophy to the White House,” Sheriff Arpaio told members of a group called Believers for Trump last week at a Mexican restaurant in Wickenburg, which is in Maricopa County.

In an ad, he described the contempt charges, filed on Oct. 26, as “a bunch of garbage.”

Barrett Marson, a Republican political strategist, called Sheriff Arpaio “the Donald Trump of Arizona” for his ability to “turn every controversy into a line of attack against the Obama administration and a selling point for his die-hard fans.”

Older white and conservative voters propelled him to victory every four years for six elections, pumping millions of dollars into his campaign. But his dominance waned as he faced more legal challenges and opposition from a growing number of Latinos, who this year accounted for almost 20 percent of all registered voters in the state. Latinos are poised to become a majority in Arizona by 2030.

Even as Maricopa County, the state’s largest, spent tens of millions of dollars in Sheriff Arpaio’s legal defense — he has also faced numerous lawsuits over abuse and faulty medical care in the several jails he runs — he claimed that he saved taxpayers money.

His focus on immigration enforcement intensified as hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants were crossing into Arizona. For a time, the federal government enabled his activities, allowing some of his deputies to act as immigration agents and, with that, to selectively target Latinos on the streets and at work.

Sheriff Arpaio plunged into the illegal immigration debate in 2005, after an Army reservist named Patrick Haab detained seven undocumented immigrants at gunpoint in the desert. The sheriff ordered Mr. Haab arrested, saying, “Being illegal is not a serious crime.”

The Maricopa County attorney at the time, Andrew Thomas, refused to prosecute Mr. Haab, though, holding him up as a sort of folk hero who was simply exercising his rights as a citizen.

“You could almost see a light bulb go off as Arpaio watched the positive reaction from the public,” recalled Paul K. Charlton, who served as United States attorney for Arizona from 2001 to 2007. “From that point on, we lost him.”

From there, Arpaio’s reputation as a hardliner who cared little about civil liberties of either accused criminals or undocumented immigrants only began to grow. He built vast tent-like structures in the desert areas of Maricopa County to house the growing population of inmates that his jail could not hold, created make-work “jobs” for prisoners that often involved working outside in the Arizona heat, put prisoners on a diet that barred any ‘luxury’ foods and resisted efforts to ensure that prisoners with special dietary needs based on medical condition or religion were able to get access to food appropriate to them, gave male prisoners pink underwear and  outer clothing to wear in an obvious effort to humiliate and emasculate them, and generally did what he could to make time in jail as difficult as he possibly could. At the same time, he developed a reputation as a tough ‘law and order’ Sheriff whose Department strictly enforced everything from drunk driving laws to traffic offenses and petty offenses that other police departments might refrain from cracking down on in favor of going after serious crimes. As a result of all of this, Arpaio started to become something of a nationwide hero, earning supporters across the coverage and largely positive coverage in the national media that was largely positive at the start, including profiles on  60 Minutes and other national news shows.

Lurking behind the law and order image, though, was something sinister.

Had reporters who visited Arizona to get the personal tour of Arpaio’s prison farms asked some local residents what they saw and they felt about Arpaio and his policies, they would have gotten a far different story. Arpaio’s prison farms often skirted the line regarding the proper treatment of prisoners under the Constitution and Federal and State law, for example, and his department was frequently involved in prisoners rights lawsuits in Federal Court. Slowly but surely, though, some of the behind the scenes truth about Arpaio’s reign began to come out and it’s wasn’t a pretty picture. As the immigration debate became a front burner issue nationally and in especially in Arizona itself, Arpaio’s treatment of immigrants and people of Latino descent came under increasing scrutiny, as did his practices at this prison, and that’s when things began to fall apart. Especially under the Obama Administration, Arpaio’s department came under increased Justice Department and judicial scrutiny, and he was frequently brought before Federal Judges for violations of various orders and Consent Decrees that he had entered into regarding both conditions at his prison and his treatment of Latinos in Maricopa County. Arpaio became a further source of controversy when he became a full-throated proponent of the so-called ‘birther’ conspiracy theories regarding President Obama and purported to use the resources of his department to ‘investigate” the circumstances of President Obama’s birth. By the time this election came about, the only question seemed to be which would come first, his removal from office by voters or his removal from office by Federal officials. Obviously,the voters wanted the first crack at getting rid of him and they took it.

For anyone who is an advocate of civil liberties, Arpaio’s downfall is a good thing. Hopefully his successor will bring some much needed reforms to the Sheriff’s Department in Arizona’s largest, most populated county. It will be a welcome development not just in Maricopa County, but around around the country.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. wr says:

    You say good riddance now.

    Wait until tomorrow when he’s appointed head of ICE.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    @wr: Second the motion.

    And I see there is a leaked list of people under consideration for the Cabinet and other top posts. Arpaio would fit right in on that list.with Gingrich, Giuliani, Christie, Palin, Brownback, Perry. That reminds me, James, were you as unhappy about the sitting gov saying TX should secede as you are about a few nuts on Twitter saying CA should?

  3. Facebones says:

    Oh lord, Guliani, the pettiest and most vindictive man in America as AG. Can’t wait till he goes on another anti-ferret jihad.

  4. Donna says:

    Adios sheriff Joe. I hope when you serve your sentence you get treated like a human being, everyone deserves that.

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:


    My favorite one? Steve Mnuchin for Treasury.

    Yup – Trump apparently intends to nominate a former investment banker – from Goldman – who worked in their mortgage backed securities unit no less, as Treasury Secretary.

    In other words, “Hey Rust Belters, sorry you lost your homes, but I like this guy who helped you lose them, so get over it”.

    You just can’t make this sh*t up 🙂

  6. walt moffett says:

    AMF, sheriff, AMF. How long will it take for the new guy to clean out the stable?

  7. grumpy realist says:

    Good riddance.

  8. Mellie Hunt says:

    Sheriff Joe did more for the security of our nation than those dimwits Obummer and hitlery put together. Hopefully, President Trump will hire Sheriff Joe to be head of Homeland Security. Then he can really clean house.

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mellie Hunt:

    Oh look, another deplorable.

  10. Hal_10000 says:

    One has to wonder if the pending federal charges against Arpaio will soon be mysteriously dropped.

  11. Paludicola says:

    At least one unspeakable authoritarian insult to America lost.

    I just wish that it had been two.

  12. de stijl says:

    @Mellie Hunt:

    A near perfect example of a a Poe’s Law comment. The bolding of the entire comment for no reason takes it from great to perfect.

    Real or parody? I have no clue.

  13. Tyrell says:

    Six terms was enough. Except for Marshall Dillon. He served a long time. Wyatt Earp – he straightened out Tombstone; and the Clantons.