Joe Arpaio is the best sheriff ever in the history of Maricopa County! No, he’s the worst Maricopa County sheriff ever!
Ask most people about Arpaio and you’ll probably get one of those opinions. There’s not a whole lot of in between when it comes to how people feel about the 80-year-old sheriff who is now the county’s longest sitting sheriff.
While not the super vote getter of years past, in the November 2012 election he still beat his opponent handily by over 80,000 votes.
Now a group calling itself “Respect Arizona” wants to recall Arpaio from the office he was just reelected to.
Arpaio has been to the recall rodeo before. In 2007 “Arizonans for the U.S. Constitution and Recall of Joe Arpaio” unsuccessfully tried to recall him. They were unable to collect 283,300 signatures of registered voters needed for the recall.
Following that recall attempt Arpaio handily beat his opponent in the 2008 election.
Arpaio has proven himself unbeatable — as a politician who is capable of not only remaking himself to appeal to voters, but also as someone who can raise millions nationally to get reelected five times. He still wields considerable political and fundraising power.
I can appreciate the disgust with those who see a need for a leadership change at the sheriff’s office. Arpaio’s record has been less than good, to say the least, and his failures out number its successes. I too see a need for change when it comes to our sheriff’s office.
But that doesn’t come in the form of a recall, and the further politicization of law enforcement in Maricopa County.
For too long getting elected sheriff in Maricopa County has boiled down to who has the best political and public relations machines behind them and spiel that keeps the voter’s attention until election day.
Since 1968 a former California deputy sheriff, two former Phoenix police command officers, an ex-navy officer turned lawnmower repairman, a retired MCSO lieutenant and Arpaio, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, have been elected sheriff. Arpaio’s competition since being elected has amounted to a retired deputy sheriff, a radio DJ, a retired police sergeant and lieutenant and only one person with experience inside of the MCSO, who went to be chief of a small police department. Unlike most other Arizona counties, Maricopa County can’t seem to produce it’s own in-house talent to take the helm of the sheriff’s office come election time.
To run for Maricopa County sheriff, one only need be a warm body that’s a registered voter. The sheriff doesn’t need to be a certified police officer or have any experience running an agency with nearly 4,000 employees, a budget close to $300 million and a jail system that’s as big as many state prisons. The sheriff’s statutory job description under the Arizona Revised Statutes is more than 600 words long.
If history is any indicator, Arpaio will be our sheriff as long as he wants or until Maricopa County adopts home rule. Then the sheriff would become an employee instead of an elected official with near autonomous authority to do as he pleases and the Board of Supervisors could choose to fire him if his performance was sub-par.
Home rule would allow the board of supervisors to function like a city council and the sheriff would be hired and fired based on experience, education and a successful professional track record instead of winning a popularity contest.
The idea that a popularity contest and not a record of successful executive level public safety and correctional experience dictate who’ll be the leader of countywide law enforcement is sophomoric.
The recall effort may appear to some to be the best way to change the way the Sheriff’s Office currently does business, but what happens if a candidate wins the election fair and square like Arpaio has repeatedly and the new sheriff turns out to be just another Joe?
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.