Trump’s Political Soulmate, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Goes Down Big in Arizona

Joe Arpaio speaking at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 18, 2016.Joe Arpaio speaking at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 18, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the activists in Arizona whose movement unseated immigration hardliner Sheriff Joe Arpaio are providing one glimmer of good news to progressive organizers across the nation.

Arpaio, who has held the Maricopa County Sheriff position since 1993, lost his re-election bid to his Democratic opponent, Paul Penzone, by a 10-point margin. Arpaio is perhaps the most prominent and outspoken immigration hardliner in the country other than President-elect Donald Trump. In late October, Arpaio was charged with criminal contempt for ignoring a 2011 court order to cease conducting the racial-profiling-based immigration arrests that made him a national figure. He faces six months of jail time if convicted, but if Trump’s comments from an August rally are to be believed, Arpaio could soon find a national role under a Trump administration.

Local community groups organized under the name “Bazta Arpaio” (“basta” means “enough” in Spanish) and coalesced around his antagonism of the local Latino population to campaign explicitly against his re-election bid. Arpaio’s loss is, in part, due to the thousands of doors knocked by Bazta Arpaio volunteers. “We won this [through] battle,” Norma Jimenez, an undocumented organizer with Bazta Arpaio, told Truthout. “Our community knew what was at stake and made sure to vote for a new day that didn’t include Sheriff Arpaio!”

Over at Penzone’s end-of-campaign rally, the former Phoenix city police officer delivered a victory speech to supporters, making reference to the xenophobia that had long been connected to Arpaio. “We made a statement across the nation. Arizona stands for something greater — that no matter where we come from, or what we look like, or what our beliefs are, we’re all entitled to respect,” he said. However, these promises of an end to racial profiling may be difficult to keep in a nation led by Donald Trump and a Republican-dominated Congress.

Arpaio’s “notoriety” for his self-branded “America’s Toughest Sheriff” image — manifested through what the US Justice Department has called “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” — gained additional attention over the past year due to his association with President-elect Trump while the New York business man was on the campaign trail in Arizona. Arpaio went as far as to describe Trump as his political soulmate, according to Politico.

Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, says that Arpaio’s support for Trump is just one indicator of his tendency toward nativism, noting that Arpaio also launched an investigation of President Obama’s birth certificate in 2012. “He’s a mess and he’s been a mess for a long time, and he’s supported many, many right-wing extremist candidates who don’t have the best interests of the people of Arizona, or this country, at heart,” she said.

The Arizona AFL-CIO is one of a handful of labor unions that linked up under Bazta Arpaio to campaign against the sheriff’s re-election. “Arpaio has been an issue for working families in the state almost since his first term and I think as he’s progressed with his discriminatory practices, the fact that 60 people have died under his watch, the multimillion dollar losses that taxpayers have had to pay for, there’s just a greater understanding of just how detrimental he is, not only to people of color, but just working families in general,” she told Truthout. “Wherever you’re at on the spectrum of labor, whether a newcomer to labor or someone who’s been around for a while, Joe Arpaio’s actions are unconscionable.”

Earlier in the day, approximately 950, mostly Latino students from two local high schools walked out in support of the campaign against Arpaio, united under #StudentsAgainstArpaio. Hundreds of these students subsequently participated in a get-out-the-vote drive. “We walked out against Arpaio because although we cannot vote, we wanted to make sure our communities did,” explained North High junior Azucena Castro. “We went knocking on every door, making sure they went out to vote and let them be our voice.”

“Arpaio has been in office for more than 20 years and he’s terrorized our community,” said Castro, pointing to the fact his reign as the county’s top law enforcement officer is older than she is and riddled with racial profiling. “I am ready for change,” she declared.

She told Truthout the walkout was a “proud moment” that proves people are willing to fight in spite of any consequences. “We weren’t just a bunch of people standing around, walking out. We were together as one — we were one community, one family. We were one change, one movement.”

Despite Penzone’s victory over Arpaio, the people who organized against his re-election say this is far from the end of their work because their campaign was never explicitly pro-Penzone. “We need and will hold the newly elected in office accountable,” said Jimenez.

“We want to make sure that Penzone does not turn out to be another Arpaio,” said Elisa Avalos, another Bazta Arpaio campaign organizer. “We look forward to see what [Penzone] has planned for the future, but we still want him to know that we will not stand for another Sheriff who encourages policies that are built off of hate and racism.”