During his 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., that encompasses Phoenix, former lawman Joe Arpaio gained a reputation as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
Not only in Arizona but also across the United States, people either loved or hated the 85-year-old former sheriff for the way he ran his department and the manner in which his deputies enforced immigration laws. Arpaio, who was defeated for re-election in 2016, is now one of three Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Arizona. He spoke at Sunday’s annual Lincoln-Reagan Republican Dinner hosted by the Douglas County Central Republican Central Committee.
Known as a law-and-order sheriff, Arpaio ran a “tight ship” in Maricopa County beginning with the first term he won in 1992. He took a strong stance on illegal immigration 13 years ago, but opponents accused him of unconstitutional racial profiling. As sheriff he changed the face of jail by adding a tent city jail, banning sexually explicit publications and requiring inmates to wear pink underwear.
His six terms as sheriff and his track record as a law enforcement officer appealed to Sunday’s audience as he received several standing ovations.
Richard Schwabe, chairman of the DCCRC, said attendees were happy to hear Arpaio speak, and many stayed afterward to socialize and talk to him.
“He was very measured, very collected and didn’t shoot from the hip,” Schwabe said. “He’s a very generous, very approachable and calm individual. He’s seen a lot.”
In addition to Arpaio, local and statewide candidates stood up to be recognized, the Douglas County High School Junior ROTC honor guard presented the colors and high-school musician Skyler Bunn played the national anthem.
Arpaio urged Nevada Republicans to support President Donald Trump and his policies, something the sheriff began almost three years ago. Arpaio became one of the first public officials in the country to back the New York real estate developer after he announced his run for the nation’s highest office. Trump appeared at a July 2015 rally in Phoenix where he attracted about 8,000 people.
“It was an honor to introduce him,” Arpaio said. “I never met him prior to that time.”
Not only did both men share the same beliefs for a plethora of topics, but they also discovered a coincidence: Both were born on Flag Day, June 14.
“But not the same year,” quipped Arpaio, drawing some laughter.
Arpaio said he recognized at that time in Phoenix and subsequently after that, a silent majority was forming to propel Trump to be president.
“I’m glad he was elected,” Arpaio added.
The sheriff also revealed his wife, Ava, has been recovering from cancer. Arpaio touched on Trump’s softer side, noting Trump called Ava several times to check on her health.
Arpaio said he recently put out a tough letter to Jeff Sessions, attorney general of the United States, stating the president is undergoing the same thing he had been accused as sheriff: racial profiling. In 2014, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow told Arpaio he could refer the lawman to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution on contempt of court charges because the sheriff’s office refused to stop racial profiling.
Contempt charges were filed just two weeks before November 2016’s general election in which Arpaio was running for re-election; however, in August 2017, Trump issued a presidential pardon.
“I didn’t get a jury trial,” Arpaio said. “I was not angry. If they can do it to me, they can do it to you.”
Arpaio then reiterated his support for the president and urged Republicans they must stand behind Trump because of the “great job” he has done so far. The sheriff touted Trump’s support for law enforcement and service men and women.
“He loves cops, the vets and loves the military,” Arpaio said. “He needs the support of the Republican Party, even here in Nevada. He has some problems in Vegas (a strong Democrat stronghold).”
With last week’s shooting deaths of 17 Florida students and adults last week, Arpaio talked about guns and gun control and said Arizona doesn’t require a permit to carry a conceal weapon. Arpaio said citizens should be able to carry guns. Before the dinner in a media interview, he said 250,000 people in Maricopa County carry weapons.
“I expect people should take action to shoot the assailant because the police can’t get there right away. I am a pro-gun guy,” he said. “We can take all the help we can get by using people — the public — to assist law enforcement.”
During his years as sheriff, though, Arpaio said he received threats against him, but he had the sheriff’s office follow up on those threats. He said at least 10 people who threatened him with harm were arrested.
“We took the extra steps the FBI should’ve taken,” Arapio said, referring to the federal agency not following up on threats involving the 19-year-old Florida shooter.
During his career in law enforcement, Arpaio said he has seen many changes from being a police officer in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas to spending 25 years with the Drug Enforcement Agency where he was stationed in Argentina, Turkey and Mexico, and eventually became the head of the DEA’s Arizona sector.
“I was a cop in Las Vegas way back (1957), and I have a little touch of Nevada in my heart,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio said his 58 years in law enforcement sets him apart from his opponents, which he offered positive statements about each. Arpaio also spent four years in the U.S. Army in the medical field, joining in 1950 when the Korean War broke out.
“I can outgun any opponent with my resume,” he said.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler and State Sen. James Settelmeyer both represent Douglas County in the Legislature. Wheeler said the dinner sold out almost two weeks ago, and he figures having a controversial speaker like Arpaio did that.
“He gave a good speech,” Settelmeyer said, adding people traveled distances to see the former sheriff.
About 100 respectful protestors braved the cold weather, wind and snow flurries to hold sign protesting Arpaio’s visit. Both Wheeler and Arpaio said protest was the American way, and if the weather wasn’t so cold, Arpaio said he would’ve gone out to the sidewalk and talked to the protestors.
Protestor Roger Dowty of Minden said Arpaio is a symptom of the real issue with the country.
“As a sheriff, he didn’t uphold the law,” Dowty said.
Tom Gulbranson of Gardnerville, who stood next to Dowty with a sign, said Arpaio ran a concentration camp that wasn’t friendly to the inmates. Gulbranson said Arpaio had a racist approach to his job.
Navy veteran Marie Hanson, who retired after 26 years in the military as a master chief, said she’s also upset with Nevada’s elected representatives such as Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Mark Amodei and Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who will not speak out against Arpaio.
Hanson, who had spent some time at Naval Air Station Fallon before she retired, carried a sign listing characteristics she felt represented Arpaio such as predatory, arrogant, oppressor.