With little more than two weeks left until the primary election, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is holding a commanding lead in the latest poll over Republican challenger Dan Saban.
Yet there are several good reasons Maricopa County voters of all stripes should be taking a closer look this time around at our self-proclaimed "America’s toughest sheriff" and the men running against him.
First, for all Arpaio’s chest-thumping, tent jail, pink underwear and green bologna, the Valley’s crime rate remains among the worst in the nation. Arpaio’s insistence that tough jail conditions convince criminals to forego committing more crimes may play well with middle-class voters, but it’s clearly not having much impact on offenders themselves.
Recidivism is helping drive the Valley’s stubbornly high crime rate.
The answer isn’t to turn our jails into country clubs, but at least considering other approaches is warranted. All three of Arpaio’s challengers pledge to do just that, and to forgo the kind of high-profile publicity stunts the sheriff is well known for, such as hanging a "Vacancy" sign over his tent city jail.
Second, the Sheriff’s Office under Arpaio has racked up a disturbing number of legal settlements, costing taxpayers millions of dollars, stemming from deaths and injuries in the jails. Although prison lawsuits are not unusual, too many of those against Arpaio’s jails have been substantive enough to lead to settlements.
Both Saban and independent candidate W. Steven Martin say lack of adequate training and poor policies and procedures are behind many of the cases that have led to lawsuits.
Third, Arpaio has been ducking campaign appearances with his opponents this season, including a televised debate sponsored by the Tribune and Cox Communications. He even ignored invitations to reschedule the Tribune debate at a time of his choosing. If he’s so sure of re-election that he can forego serious campaigning, the public should be incensed. Arrogance is not a laudable trait in politics, especially when there are respectable candidates offering serious choices.
Last week’s poll results showed Arpaio beating Saban by a 2-1 margin if the election were held now. But it also showed more than 1 in 5 Republican voters were undecided. Previous polls have shown Arpaio to be among the most popular politicians in Arizona, and taking him on politically is an enormous challenge.
But with troubling questions hanging over Sheriff Joe, and two very capable challengers promising more professionalism and less showboating, voters would do well to take a closer look before casting their ballots.