Sí, se puede: Joe’s here to stay

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio leaves his indelible mark upon this county and state, and efforts to recall him stall each year.

He just isn’t going away.

He is a specter to Democrats and a hero to Republicans. The apparition himself recently appeared on campus, to the elation of those who came to support him, as well as those who hoped to expose his wrongdoing.

When I attended a College Republicans meeting on Feb. 21, I expected nothing. I risked my neck as a Democrat and decided to attend, if only to confirm my suspicions about our fair constable. I know Arpaio is not going anywhere, so I thought it was important to learn more about him.

When I arrived at the event, the situation soon exploded.

Before the meeting even started, Arpaio had the event organizers request that people take off their “Adiós Arpaio” shirts and “protest” outside. The College Republicans eventually just changed rooms.

As the organized citizens waited outside the “private meeting,” they directed jeers at the College Republicans and chanted inspirationally about community and what it means to live under Arpaio’s watchful gaze.

I was not impressed by anyone in this situation, but I empathized with the plight of citizens wanting to petition their government.

The “protestors” did not begin their petition in a threatening way and Arpaio responded in an authoritarian and oppressive manner.

The whole protest situation was farmed out to the College Republicans, who had to control the citizens who wanted to interact with their guest.

Upon closer inspection I found another Arpaio: A sheriff at odds with the vilification presented by the “protestors” and the media.

As he left the meeting, he seemed kind and generous. He talked with the people who wanted to talk with him. He seemed confused about the prospect of an open Facebook event and why people were kept away from him.

But as he drove away and I went about my night, something percolated. I realized his genius in the whole ordeal. He successfully made a media circus out of a mere visit to a college. He feeds upon this media frenzy and thrives in the spotlight, at any cost.

A New York Times article once documented: “When he first took office in 1993, many people here recall, he used to go around asking strangers, ‘Do you know who I am?’”

I thought it was strange that a government official could do such tap dancing to avoid the very people that should be able to hold him accountable. He avoided his own ASU supporters and forced them to endure hateful chants and a nightmare of logistics.

Is the media circus worth it?

Is he worth the estimated $50 million of payouts to those victimized by the people he is supposed to correct? Are the more than 400 uninvestigated sex crimes worth it? Is his blatant racism worth it?

As this year’s recall gets under way people should think about what they want in a sheriff. Do they want a small man hiding behind a huge curtain?

I certainly don’t.

 

Reach the columnist at peter.northfelt@asu.edu or follow him at @peternorthfelt

 

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