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Arizona Campaign Builds Against “America’s Toughest Sheriff”

Actions range from a Latino voter mobilization to an infusion of support from out-of-state groups helping run anti-Joe Arpaio radio ads on Spanish radio.

Phoenix, Arizona – A movement to oust Joe Arpaio, America’s self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff,” from office continues to gain momentum in Arizona. Actions range from a Latino voter mobilization to an infusion of support from out-of-state groups helping run anti-Joe Arpaio radio ads on Spanish radio.

Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio, 80, known nationally for his immigration sweeps is facing his toughest race in 20 years. But he remains a popular politician.

America’s Voice, a national group that supports comprehensive immigration reform, is investing part of an $80,000 advertising fund in anti-Arpaio ads scheduled to start running this Monday.

Leading in Polls

The popular and brash Arpaio—despite facing several legal actions for his conduct and management of the sheriff’s office—was leading his nearest challenger, Democrat Paul Penzone, by from six to14 points in recent polls.

Penzone’s supporters are concerned that Independent candidate Mike Stauffer, who has about three-percent support in most polls, could split the anti-Arpaio vote.

Arpaio has a campaign war chest much larger than his opponents and has received over $8 million in donations during this campaign cycle. As of the end of September he still had about half of that amount. Most of the contributions he’s received come from out-of-state contributors, the majority of them in California.

So far his campaign has spent over $700,000 for television ads. Some have focused on Arpaio’s character and his signature as the “toughest” sheriff in America.” One ad featuring Arpaio wrapping his arm around an inmate and holding pets. But the most recent ads attack Penzone, his strongest opponent.

The Arpaio campaign’s new spot focuses on a nine-year-old police report accusing Penzone of domestic violence after he had an argument with his former wife. Both parties had minor injuries, and Penzone was listed as the victim by the Glendale Police Department. No charges were filed.

Arpaio is facing growing opposition on the home front from a number of grassroots campaigns to oust him. Under the banner of “Adios, Arpaio” (“Goodbye, Arpaio”), Campaign for Arizona Future, has added over 34,000 new Latino voters to the rolls.

The campaign is organized by immigrant-advocacy group Promesa Arizona in Action and the Unite Here union, which represents many service workers. With support from the AFL-CIO and Unite Here the campaign has been infused with $500,000.

Online groups working with social media such as People Against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, have created their own ads as well. Anti-Arpaio activist Devin Fleenor launched a campaign to place an ad featuring Arpaio’s role in his agency’s failing to investigation over 400 sexual crimes involving minors.

In spite of his popularity as a no-nonsense crime fighter, Arpaio’s mishandling of the child-abuse cases, and his recent “birther” investigation into President Barack Obama birth certificate put a dent in his support even among some conservative Republican voters. A political action committee, Citizens for Professional Law-Enforcement, was formed recently aiming to capitalize on those issues to defeat the sheriff on Nov. 6.

The group has a series of ads in public and cable TV, focusing on these issues. One of them features a press conference in which Arpaio apologized to the victims of sex crimes. The spot turns his words during the press conference against him, as he states, “If there were any victims out there, I apologize to those victims—if there were any.”

Dreamer Youth Oppose Sheriff

The America’s Voice radio ads feature young Dreamers –undocumented students inviting people to support Democratic candidate Penzone for sheriff.

“We can’t vote, we don’t have the privilege to be going out to cast a ballot. Because we consider ourselves American, we have the responsibility of going out there to inform the community,” said Erika Andiola, 25, an undocumented immigrant, who earned an undergraduate degree in psychology.

Andiola had a personal experience with the sheriff’s office. Deputies went to her house looking for her mother in 2008, because they were looking for undocumented workers. They didn’t find her mother, but arrested her uncle instead.

“He’s breaking families across Maricopa,” Andiola said. “He’s not focusing on what he should be doing, going after people who committed crimes.”

Latinos are a growing political force in Arizona with over 400,000 registered to vote. According to the polling firm Latino Decisions, about two-thirds of the Latino electorate knows someone who is undocumented. Also, 55 percent know a Dreamer between ages five and 31.

In recent years, Arpaio has faced growing criticism from Latinos over allegations of racial profiling during his immigration sweeps. These accusations led civil rights groups to file a lawsuit against the sheriff that is awaiting a federal court ruling. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a separate suit against Arpaio’s office for civil rights violations.

Arpaio’s office has also been the target of criticism over the cost of lawsuits and settlements stemming from deaths in his jail. Recently, Phoenix reached a $3.25 million settlement in the wrongful death of Deborah Braillard, who died while in the sheriff’s custody in 2005 because she was refused treatment for her diabetes.

In another closely watched race, America’s voice is also buying ad spots supporting Democratic candidate Richard Carmona for the U.S. Senate. Carmona, former Surgeon General of the United States under President George W. Bush, is running against Republican Rep. Jeff Flake for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. John Kyl.