By Griselda Nevarez, Voxxi
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is facing his toughest re-election race in his 20-year tenure and a group of young Latinos in Arizona are working to ensure he doesn’t get re-elected.
As the voter registration deadline loomed in Arizona on Tuesday, at least 300 high school and college-age Latinos were canvassing neighborhoods to register the last batch of eligible Latino voters.
Among them was 15-year-old Jackie Garcia, a sophomore in high school. She spent the whole day Tuesday knocking on doors and registered six Latinos voters.
Garcia wore a white T-Shirt with a yellow rectangle on the front and a shadow figurine of a man riding a horse in the middle.
“It’s supposed to be Arpaio running away on his horse, because he knows we’re coming to get him and we’re going to defeat him,” she told VOXXI about her shirt.
The logo on her shirt has become the symbol of the voter registration campaign, known as “Adios Arpaio,” that seeks to encourage Latino voters to vote in November to boot Arpaio out of office.
The campaign is composed of several organizations, including Promise Arizona in Action, and is led by the Campaign For Arizona’s Future. It concluded its five-month voter registration drive Tuesday night at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix where it announced that it registered about 34,200 new voters, surpassing its goal of 30,000.
Arpaio is widely known as the nation’s toughest sheriff for his hardline immigration policies. But among Latinos in Arizona, he is known for his efforts to go after the state’s undocumented immigrants who are working to support their families instead of going after serious criminals.
This year, despite having a massive fundraising advantage and being well-recognized, Arpaio is facing his toughest re-election race to date.
He is running in a close race against the Democratic candidate Paul Penzone, a former Phoenix police sergeant. The third candidate also running is Mike Stauffer, a 29-year police veteran who has low chances of winning.
The most recent poll of the Maricopa County sheriff’s race shows Arpaio is leading Penzone by 5.5 percent. Of the 850 likely voters surveyed for the poll released last month, 44.5 percent said they would vote for Arpaio, 39 percent said they favored Penzone, and less than 10 percent back Stauffer.
Mike O’Neil, a political analyst from Arizona, told VOXXI he has never seen the five-term Sheriff run in a competitive race such as this one.
“He is in more jeopardy of losing than ever before,” O’Neil said of Arpaio.
O’Neil pointed to a number of reasons why he thinks the Sheriff is facing a tough reelection bid. Among them, the misappropriation of nearly $100 million in salaries that occurred over an eight-year period under Arpaio’s leadership and his office’s failure to properly investigate hundreds of sexual-abuse cases.
Jackie Garcia, right, attended a rally in August to celebrate the “Adios Arpaio” campaign, which registered 11,000 Latino voters. The campaign wants Latino voters to vote in November to boot Arpaio out of office. (Photo Voxxi/ Adiós Arpaio campaign)
Immigration issue takes a back seat in sheriff race
The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, noted those two incidents, along with a lengthy list of others, in a Sunday editorial announcing its endorsement of Penzone over Arpaio.
O’Neil also told VOXXI the issue of immigration, which helped Arpaio gain national support, is “running its course” and is not an issue that’s at the top of the list for many voters.
Meanwhile, Arpaio’s supporters disagree saying illegal immigration concerns many of the state’s residents, noting that Arizona continues to be a popular corridor for illegal crossings.
They also note that Arpaio’s tactics to fight illegal immigration have been copied by other law enforcement agencies. And his endorsement is still one of the most sought after by other immigration hardliners running for office.
But even though fighting illegal immigration has been one of Arpaio’s top priorities in recent years, his television ads hardly mention the issue. Instead, the ads show him as a tough opponent of animal abuse and tout his office’s success in rounding up so-called deadbeat dads.
Latino activists say it is a sign of the change in rhetoric from politicians talking about immigration.
Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona in Action, said that change began shortly after the state passed its controversial immigration law in 2010.
“People started seeing that the law was so divisive … so they stood up and said we’re going to put a stop to it,” she told VOXXI.
Shortly after Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, hundreds of Latinos and other residents who opposed the law mobilized to recall its author, state Sen. Russell Pearce.
In November 2011, Pearce lost to his challenger, Jerry Lewis, and again lost his bid to return to the state legislature last month.
Falcon said she expects the same could happen to Arpaio.
“People say Arpaio is a goliath and that no one can take him out of office, but they said that about Russell Pearce as well,” she told VOXXI. “I do think there is a chance to see Arpaio out in this election.”
Grecia Lima, the field director of Promise Arizona in Action, said volunteers with the Latino voter “Adiós Arpaio” campaign are working to make that happen. She said about 100 to 200 volunteers turned out daily to during the five-month registration drive.
“We have been able to engage so many volunteers, because they want someone who puts public safety first before public image,” Lima told VOXXI. “They want someone who will have their best interest at heart.”
She said that starting this weekend, volunteers with the “Adiós Arpaio” campaign will begin contacting the newly registered voters and Latino voters to encourage them to vote for Penzone.
Ricardo Valenzuela and Rosa Cabezas put up the total number of the “Adios Arpaio” campaign registered Latino voters. The campaign wants Latino voters to vote in November to boot Arpaio out of office. (Photo Voxxi/ Griselda Nevarez)
This article was first published in Voxxi.
Griselda Nevárez is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington D.C.
[Photo by Voxxi]