Anti-immigrant extremist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) hasn’t debated challengers since he was first elected to Congress in 2002. But even he is caving this year, agreeing to a series of debates with Democratic challenger and former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack.
Not so for Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the rogue lawman running Maricopa County. In a much-closer-than-usual election where his opponent, Democratic challenger Paul Penzone, trails by only six points, Arpaio has announced that he will not participate in any debates with either Penzone or the third-party candidate Mike Stauffer.
Could it be because he’s…chicken?
Randy Parraz of Citizens for a Better Arizona thinks so. Parraz thinks Arpaio is afraid of his own rap sheet record—and to make that clear, he brought several live chickens down to the Sheriff’s office in Phoenix.
“If [Arpaio] is going to act chicken about running against Paul Penzone,” Parraz said, “then he should hang out with the chickens.”
Judging from his campaign ads, Arpaio’s whole tone is sounding different this year. He’s highlighting his years of service and long career as a lawman rather than the usual blustering about immigration as usual. That could be because Arpaio opponents have successfully picked off two of his partners in crime—now-debarred attorney Andrew Thomas and now-recalled former state senator Russell Pearce—in the last year. It could be because Arizona voters have finally soured on Arpaio’s outrageous antics, which have distracted the Sheriff while violent crime rates have soared in Maricopa County. Or it could be because—as our Latino Decisions panel mentioned yesterday—Arizona now has the nation’s second-largest percentage of eligible Latino voters, and that number is only projected to grow.
That means Arpaio’s position is more precarious than ever, which explains why he doesn’t want to go in front of an audience and debate his challengers. When you’ve been the target of thousands of lawsuits charging you racial profiling, misconduct, prisoner abuse, and prisoner death; when these lawsuits have cost the county you’re supposed to be serving upwards of $50 million in legal fees; when you force pregnant women to give birth while shackled to a bed; when you’ve been so busy chasing down the specter of no-good immigrants that you neglect to investigate 400 sex-crime cases; when you continue to maintain that the President of the United States is not actually an American citizen—that is A LOT to defend.
And it is his record’s indefensibility that cost Arpaio the endorsement of the Arizona Republic this last weekend. According to Mother Mags at Daily Kos, the conservative newspaper has been an Arpaio supporter and cheerleader for decades: “So you know he’s not only lost some of his bluster,” Mother Mags writes, “but his racist and unconstitutional antics have finally caught up with him, when the Republic endorses the other guy.”