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UPDATED: Sheriff Joe’s legacy of unchecked power continues


Jill Garvey • Nov 07, 2012

Updated November 8 at 10AM CST: Reports are surfacing that over half a million provisional and early votes have not yet been counted in Arizona. Phoenix New Times reported that “Arpaio’s lead on Penzone currently stands at 88,123 votes” and Daily Kos is estimating that 344,000 early votes and 115,000 provisional votes still need to be counted in Maricopa County alone. Paul Penzone conceded the race Tuesday night, but Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy wants him and U.S. Senate candidate Richard Carmona to retract their concessions.

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The country chose to re-elect Democratic President Barack Obama yesterday, but local elections skewed much further to the right in some states. One high profile race was between longtime sheriff Joe Arpaio and challenger Paul Penzone.

Sheriff Joe won handily. As did other candidates who have imitated Arpaio’s hard-line positions. Sheriff Babeu was re-elected in Pinal County, for example.

This is a huge blow to Arizona and means more hardship for vulnerable communities in Maricopa County. Although Arpaio faced the toughest race of his career, this win will no doubt embolden him to intensify his attacks on Latinos and immigrants. The silver lining is that Arpaio’s opposition gave him a run for his money – literally. It was the costliest sheriff’s race in U.S. history. Penzone was woefully outspent; his momentum came largely from community activism, and that may bode well for a stronger campaign in 2016.

But the Phoenix New Times cautioned against attributing Arpaio’s victory solely to a financial advantage and called out Phoenix’s voters for continuing to support Arpaio:

Which part of Arpaio’s résumé did the voters love so much? The jail conditions? Jail deaths? The botched sex-crime investigations? The racial profiling? The bogus investigations into political foes? The jailing of newspaper owners? The authorization of a completely fake investigation into the president’s birth certificate? The millions upon millions of dollars wasted? The other “Nickel Bag Joe”-caliber stuff that we detail on this blog at least once a week? Pretty much anything found in the New Times investigative file on Arpaio?

Whatever the reasons for Arpaio’s win, it sends an immediate message to would-be Arpaios around the country: you won’t be held accountable for racism, corruption, and attacks on immigrants.

It didn’t help that the Department of Justice recently concluded a criminal investigation into Arpaio without bringing any charges. Driving home the message that the government cannot, or will not, hold Arpaio accountable.

Penzone had a warning for Arpaio in his concession speech late last night: “Our sheriff needs to be transparent, he needs to treat everyone with dignity and respect. People in this community are going to be watching. They’re going to be holding him accountable.”

Let’s hope so.

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