Metro Weekly

Joe Arpaio, anti-immigrant sheriff pardoned by Trump, to run for Senate

Controversial Arizona sheriff could face off against bisexual U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in general election

Joe Arpaio – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Joe Arpaio, the controversial former Arizona sheriff who made a name for himself due to his hard-line stance on immigration, has announced his intention to enter the U.S. Senate race for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake.

Arpaio, who pledged his support to President Trump in his campaign announcement, joins a Republican primary field that already includes State Sen. Kelli Ward, another Trump acolyte, and will soon include U.S. Rep. Martha McSally of Tucson, a retired Air Force colonel who has successfully defended a Republican-leaning swing district over the past few cycles — and is likely the preferred candidate of Washington GOP elites. McSally is expected to officially announce her candidacy on Friday.

“I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump,” Arpaio told The Washington Examiner. “I’m going to have to work hard; you don’t take anything for granted. But I would not being doing this if I thought that I could not win. I’m not here to get my name in the paper, I get that every day, anyway.”

Were Arpaio to be successful in winning the GOP primary — not a far stretch, if he’s able to galvanize hard-line immigration opponents that make up part of the party’s base in Arizona — his likely Democratic opponent would be U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat from Tempe. If elected, Sinema, who is bisexual, would be the second LGBTQ person elected to the U.S. Senate, after Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

In the 24 years he served as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county, from 1993 to 2017, Arpaio established not only a statewide profile but a national profile, primarily for his tactics to combat illegal immigration and his criticism of attempts by Washington lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, to pass immigration reform.

He also gained notoriety for public relations gimmicks like bringing back chain gangs for prisoners and requiring inmates to wear pink underwear, ostensibly to prevent prisoners from stealing underwear upon their release.

In 2017, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for violating a federal injunction in a case where he had been accused of racially profiling and detaining Latinos in an effort to round up and deport immigrants who were in the country illegally. He was soon pardoned by Trump, for whom he had actively campaigned during the 2016 election.

Arpaio was previously dealt his first political defeat in 2016, when he was beaten in his re-election bid for Maricopa County Sheriff by Democrat Paul Penzone, a Phoenix police officer.

Jeff Flake, the outgoing senator whom the 85-year-old Arpaio seeks to replace, dismissed the former sheriff’s candidacy as a publicity stunt, telling reporters of Arpaio’s candidacy: “Write about it fast because it won’t last long.” Flake has previously feuded publicly with and criticized Trump for various actions as president, and has clashed with Arpaio over Flake’s decision to support an immigration reform bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued its own response to Arpaio’s candidacy on Twitter, tweeting: “We’ve sued Joe Arpaio for denying women prisoners access to abortion, for victimizing people with disabilities, and for racially profiling Latinos. We’ve won every time.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at