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Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Monday, December 19, 2011

Claims, Missteps May Crack Arpaio's Political Armor

The Arizona Republic (by Dan Nowicki): For nearly two decades Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has seemed an invincible political juggernaut. Few dared to run against him, and those who criticized him publicly feared that they might themselves be targeted for retribution.

But longtime critics are detecting a shift in the political winds, saying the one-two punch of a blistering Justice Department letter alleging civil-rights abuses and a scandal involving more than 400 mishandled sex-crimes cases may have finally shaken Arpaio. They say the five-term Republican lawman's policing tactics targeting illegal immigrants have given Arizona a black eye and the time may be right for the state's GOP heavyweights such as Gov. Jan Brewer and U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl to try to pressure him out of office.

Barring that, critics believe that Arpaio could at last be vulnerable to either a Republican primary challenger or a moderate-to-conservative Democrat in the 2012 general election.

Federal investigators on Thursday outlined allegations of rampant racial profiling against Latinos and other illegal policing practices in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Justice Department officials also accused Arpaio's office of unlawfully retaliating against people who complain about its activities and policies. That alleged abuse of power by Arpaio also is the focus of a separate federal criminal probe.

Arpaio and his top aides initially took a combative stance toward the Justice Department's claims of a "general culture of bias" and wrongdoing within the agency. Arpaio countercharged that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, "and a band of his merry men" were on a politically motivated witch hunt and targeting him because of his illegal-immigration enforcement. Arpaio subsequently has said he is willing to discuss proposed reforms with the Justice Department but hasn't decided whether to accept them or fight the case in court. On Saturday, he told The Arizona Republic that he didn't intend to resign and would likely seek a sixth term as sheriff in 2012. "I'm not going anywhere," he said.

The allegations of mismanagement and unprofessionalism have increased the drumbeat of calls for Arpaio's resignation. But Arpaio still has plenty of supporters, some of whom demonstrated in Phoenix on Thursday after the Justice Department issued its report. Some of his political allies in Arizona and across the country also rallied to his defense, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the presidential candidate who this year secured Arpaio's backing. It appeared to be as much an opportunity to slam Obama and the Justice Department over an unrelated bungled gun-trafficking operation as to stand up for Arpaio.

"From the Fast and Furious gun running scandal to fighting the rights of state and local governments to protect their citizens, the Obama Justice Department has little credibility left," Perry said in a written statement.

Many others in the GOP so far have said nothing.

"Where is John McCain and Jon Kyl?" said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a national group that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. "They're national leaders, and they're letting the reputation of Arizona be trashed by a thug like Arpaio? You know the kind of moral and political strength McCain and Kyl have. ... At a minimum, one would think that the adults in Arizona would step forward and say, 'All right, the crazies have been running the asylum for too long. Let's work to create a pro-business climate in Arizona, a bipartisan approach to solving tough problems, and stop making Arizona the laughingstock or the bogeyman of the rest of the country.' "

Quiet Republicans

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, and Kyl, the Senate minority whip, publicly expressed concern about reports that Arpaio's agency failed to follow up on more than 400 alleged sex crimes between 2005 and 2007. Some of the cases involved children.

"Victims of abuse not only deserve the respect of law enforcement, but their rights must also be protected throughout the criminal justice process," McCain and Kyl said in a Dec. 8 joint written statement.

Neither McCain nor Kyl was available for comment on the Justice Department's inquiry.

Brewer is waiting to hear Arpaio's side of the story.

"I think everybody's concern is that we don't want anyone's civil rights violated," Brewer told reporters Friday. "That has always been of big concern to me."

There is precedence in Arizona for a coordinated effort by Republican leaders to push for an embattled GOP official to step down.

In January 1988, McCain, then a freshman senator, and Kyl, then serving in the U.S. House, held a news conference with then-U.S. Reps. Jim Kolbe and Jay Rhodes to call for the resignation of controversial then-Gov. Evan Mecham, who was facing a recall election over his incendiary decision to rescind Arizona's original paid holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. as well as other issues. Retired U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP presidential nominee, had led the way a few months earlier by saying Mecham should quit. Mecham, remembered today for numerous intemperate comments and verbal gaffes, refused to step down and eventually was impeached and removed by the Arizona Legislature before the recall election was held.

"Truthfully, I do believe that the leaders of the party should consider having that type of a discussion," said former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a longtime Republican critic and political foil of Arpaio's. "Barry Goldwater did that with Mecham. I think that's leadership for the good of the party. Whether or not the person would listen is always another matter."

Romley, who lost his 2010 race amid intense opposition from the sheriff, believes Arpaio would continue to ignore any calls for his resignation from Brewer, McCain, Kyl or anybody else. So far, the clamor for Arpaio's resignation has come from the left and thus carries no weight with the sheriff. Two U.S. lawmakers from Arizona -- Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ed Pastor -- are among the Democrats who have said he needs to go.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a Republican, said he believes there is a chance that GOP leaders still will stand up against Arpaio.

"The seriousness of the situation is pretty unprecedented," said Woods, who thinks Arpaio should quit. "Would he care? I doubt it. That would be analogous to Mecham in some respects -- he didn't really care, either."

Woods, a former McCain aide and a close friend to the senator, also defended the written statement that McCain and Kyl put out about the sex cases that Arpaio's agency initially didn't investigate.

"That was pretty unusual that they took that step, and that was prior to this (the Justice Department report) coming out," he said. "It was the two senators from the state -- the immediate past presidential candidate and the second-in-command Republican in the United States Senate. I wouldn't just act like that was nothing."

Grijalva said that he was surprised by the statement and that he hopes his Republican colleagues in the state's congressional delegation make their positions on Arpaio known. He stopped short of saying Arpaio has reached "a tipping point" in his political career but said he feels the sheriff's critics now have momentum.

"Because of his political retaliation against anybody that criticized him, which is also in the report, I think there's been a reluctance on the part of some elected officials to really take this guy on," Grijalva said. "I think that part's over. This is the beginning of the unraveling, because now people that have felt intimidated because they didn't want the consequences of having Arpaio after them will feel more free to speak."

Support shifting?

But state Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said don't count on many Republicans turning on Arpaio, who for years has been a sought-after political endorsement for GOP candidates. Kavanagh called the Justice Department investigation a political "smear job" and "a sneak attack on Arpaio" because the Sheriff's Office was not notified in advance of the news conference in which the allegations were announced.

Kavanagh, who, like Arpaio, is an ardent foe of illegal immigration, said he has heard no GOP conversation about seeking the sheriff's resignation.

"That's certainly a Democrat Party talking point, but it has not spread to the Republican Party," Kavanagh said. "I've seen nothing but support for the sheriff."

Even if Republicans close ranks behind Arpaio, his political foes now believe that it will be hard for voters to ignore what critics characterize as egregious unprofessionalism in the office. "With that type of law enforcement, you wonder if you're back in the 1950s in the Deep South," said Pastor, the senior member of Arizona's U.S. House delegation. "The question to ask is not if this is the tail end of his political power, it's how much longer are the citizens of Maricopa County willing to put up with it?"

Arpaio's latest troubles follow the ballot-box defeats of two of his key allies in his fight against illegal immigration. Andrew Thomas, county attorney from 2005 to 2010, last year lost his primary race for Arizona attorney general. More recently, former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, the author of Arizona's controversial Senate Bill 1070, was ousted in a recall election.

Randy Parraz, the political organizer and co-founder of Citizens for a Better Arizona who orchestrated Pearce's undoing, already has put Arpaio on notice that a "citizens posse" will be working to ensure that he is not re-elected in 2012.

An opposing candidate could run against Arpaio solely on the issue of dereliction of duty with regard to the botched sex-crimes cases and not even have to mention immigration, said Sharry of America's Voice.

"I suspect this will be the beginning of the end for Arpaio," Sharry said. "He rode an issue that is deeply emotional and deeply frustrating and milked it for as much publicity and popularity that he could. Now you can see that the tide has turned in Arizona and elsewhere."

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