Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “America’s toughest sheriff,” lost his bid for re-election on Tuesday. After serving 24 years as the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, voters replaced him with Paul Penzone.
While older white and conservative voters pushed Arpaio to victory in previous elections, it was Latino voters that ultimately threw him out of office. His controversial methods for controlling immigration, including random sweeps of Hispanic neighborhoods without evidence of criminal activity, damaged not only his reputation but also violated federal law.
“The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, an advocacy group created to oppose the sheriff’s embrace of a federal program that allowed his deputies to act as immigration agents. “He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear.”
Latinos, who comprise 20 percent of registered voters in Arizona, came out strong against Sheriff Arpaio. During the months leading up to Tuesday’s elections, many Latino nonprofit groups walked the streets of several Maricopa County neighborhoods to encourage Latinos to register and vote. Many compared Donald Trump’s presidential campaign threat to deport undocumented immigrants and build a border wall to Arpaio’s attitude against Latinos in Arizona.
“What Trump talks about now, Arpaio has been doing to us for years,” said Garcia. “For many years Arpaio has been hunting down our communities destroying and separating our families and has used us as a political ploy.”
Sheriff Joe’s various legal challenges also likely played a significant role in his reelection bid. Just two weeks ago, the 84-year-old controversial lawman was charged with contempt of court after disregarding a federal judge’s order in a racial profiling case.
The charge stems from a 2013 court ruling that Arpaio and his deputies engaged in unconstitutional policing by racially profiling Latino drivers and passengers during traffic stops. The Arizona taxpayers will foot the $72 million bill in legal fees related to the case. The U.S. Department of Justice is now considering their own obstruction of justice case against the sheriff.
Maricopa County’s new sheriff will be Paul Penzone, a former Phoenix police sergeant. Penzone previously ran against Arpaio in 2012 but was defeated. On Tuesday, Penzone took 54.9 percent of the vote, while Arpaio came in at 45.1 percent.
“Arizona stands for something greater, no matter where we come from or what we look like, we are all entitled to respect,” Penzone told local radio station KJZZ.
Penzone plans to dismantle many of Arpaio’s jail rules, including the use of chain gangs, inmate tents, and the requirement for inmates to wear pink underwear. He also will end Arpaio’s crusade to verify President Barack Obama’s American citizenship.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Arpaio congratulated Penzone for his win.
“We want to congratulate Paul Penzone on his victory and look forward to working with him on a seamless transition. My thanks and appreciation to the people of Maricopa County for the faith and trust they put in me over the years.”
On Wednesday, numerous members of Latino groups as well as other organizations gathered outside the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to celebrate the defeat of Joe Arpaio. Many were holding signs reading, “Eviction Notice” in red lettering.
“This is day one of restoring justice to communities that injustice has been done to,” said Rebeckah Friends, representing labor organization Arizona AFL-CIO.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio blames the reelection loss on the media and a “corrupt Obama Justice Department.” According to the lawman, the race was tainted by federal prosecutors’ decision to pursue criminal charges just before the election. Charges he described as “a bunch of garbage.”
Sheriff Joe Arpaio losing the job was not a surprise as he trailed in polls by double digits in the days leading up to the election. Since taking office in 1993, the rough law enforcer separated himself from an increasingly growing number of people, such as Hispanic and Democratic voters.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]