Incumbent Republican Senator Jeff Flake announced in October 2017 that he would retire at the end of his term instead of seeking re-election for another term in 2018. This will leave the current Republican senate seat open, and candidates are lining up to be Arizona’s next senator. Among them is Joe Arpaio, who has gained notoriety for his harsh anti-immigration stance, his ruthless treatment of prison inmates, and his conviction for contempt of court — for which he never served jail time after being pardoned by Trump.
Arpaio made his announcement on Tuesday though his Twitter account, reiterating his unwavering support for Donald Trump.
This is the latest entry in the saga of the former Maricopa County sheriff’s polemic career, which has been marked by controversy.
Joe Arpaio was elected sheriff of Maricopa County in 1992. He was re-elected in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012, finally losing his bid for a seventh term to Paul Penzone, a Democrat and a former Phoenix police sergeant.
Arpaio’s tenure was marked by what was seen as inhumane treatment of the inmates under his supervision. His draconian practices included humiliating male inmates by having them wear women’s pink underwear and pink handcuffs.
He’s perhaps most notorious for setting up a “tent city” jail which has been described as a concentration camp. Daytime temperatures inside the tents could get as high as 150 °F (65 °C). Inmates had to work in chain gangs (this included women and juveniles). He also cut down prison meals to two a day (breakfast and supper), and banned the use of salt and pepper to save money.
He proudly called himself “America’s toughest sheriff.”
In 2005, Arpaio made illegal immigration his focus and engaged in controversial practices such as using traffic violations as a means to check the vehicles for anyone he who in his view may be an illegal immigrant. Arpaio also ran many operations targeting businesses employing Latinos.
In 2011, Judge G. Murray Snow ordered the sheriff to halt detention based solely on suspicion of a person’s immigration status when there was no evidence that a state law had been broken. Sheriff Arpaio ignored the order and the profiling continued. Finally, on July 2017 Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.
Arpaio faced up to six months in prison, but Donald Trump stepped in and issued a pardon, saying Sheriff Arpaio “gave years of admirable service to our nation” and called him a “worthy candidate for a presidential pardon.” Trump called Mr. Arpaio “an American patriot.” “He kept Arizona safe!” the president said in a tweet. This was a way for Trump to stand by one of his biggest allies. Less than a week before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Arpaio endorsed Trump. “I have fought on the front lines to prevent illegal immigration,” Arpaio said in a statement announcing the endorsement. “I know Donald Trump will stand with me and countless Americans to secure our border.”
In an ironic twist, Arpaio’s candidacy may be good news for Democrats. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by just 4 percent in Arizona in 2016, so a win by a Democratic candidate is not out of the question. CNN reports that Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy immediately sent supporters a fundraising email seeking contributions to be split between his campaign account and that of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is posing as a potential Democrat contender in Arizona.
“‘Every Democratic voter should give a dollar to Arpaio’s primary campaign because nobody energizes Latino voters nationally better than Joe Arpaio,’ said Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a retiring Democrat who is considering a 2020 presidential run. ‘He has 100% name recognition in the Latino community and will be enormously helpful to Democrats in Arizona and in every other Senate and House race in 2018 if he makes a serious run for the Senate.'”
Other declared candidates for Flake’s seat include revenge porn site founder Craig Brittain, financial advisor Christian “C.J.” Diegel, former fighter pilot Martha McSally, Nicholas Tutora, and Kelli Ward, former state senator and candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2016