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New Maricopa County sheriff promises to push aside politics before 2024 election

After switching party affiliation last minute, new Maricopa County Sheriff Russ Skinner says politics should stay out of the office


Judge Joseph Welty swears in new Maricopa County Sheriff Russ Skinner on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Phoenix.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to appoint Russ Skinner to be the new Maricopa County sheriff on Feb. 8 following Paul Penzone's resignation last month.

Skinner, who served as the chief deputy sheriff under Penzone, will finish out the last 10 months of Penzone's term. It's unclear whether he will run for the position in November.

The Board considered three finalists among eight applicants for the position, according to a press release. The list included two longtime Republicans who changed their party affiliation to become eligible, including Skinner. State law requires the Board to pick a Democrat to match Penzone's party.

Skinner said that he is "apolitical," and only threw his hat into the ring for the county sheriff position to keep stability in the office where he said he has served for 33 years, even if it meant changing his party registration.

"I want to keep certainty with this agency, especially with an election cycle coming up, major events coming up," Skinner said. "I have no intention of switching back. This isn't something that is gaming the system. I'm committed to continuing out the rest of (Penzone's) term as a Democrat."

Penzone retired a year before the end of his term. He took office in 2017 after defeating Republican incumbent Joe Arpaio, who was known for several controversial policies

READ MORE: Joe Arpaio's visit to ASU met protesters from a coalition of organizations

Skinner served as an employee in the sheriff's office during the Arpaio era, but said he was not a "loyalist" to those policies and would instead focus on building trust and respect within the community.

"Obviously, the sheriff's office has stains on it from years ago. I can say that as a D.A.R.E officer back in the day in Guadalupe, working in those areas and working with different dynamics from within our community, we are committed to gaining that trust and transparency," Skinner said. 

The county sheriff enforces the law in unincorporated areas, serves superior court orders and warrants, coordinates search and rescue efforts and oversees the county jail, according to the job description from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. 

Chairman of the Board Jack Sellers said that the time constraints following Penzone's resignation influenced the Board's decision to choose someone with direct experience in the sheriff's office.

"In the short amount of time we have for the remainder of this year, we really cannot afford to have someone who had to gain the respect and learn the system," Seller said. "We needed someone that could step in on day one."

Edited by Sadie Buggle, Shane Brennan and Angelina Steel. 

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