Posse Galore

Staking out Maricopa County's wildest political race -- to unseat Sheriff Joe Arpaio

His detractors say it could be bad. Some claim he is surrounding himself with some of the same people who created the problems of past administrations.

Still, compared with the flurry of accusations among the Arpaio, Ayala and Bearup camps, Robertson seems by far the least impeachable of the group.

Robertson moved to Phoenix in 1943 when he was nine. He joined the Army in the early 1950s and served in Okinawa during the Korean War. Robertson put in more than 41 years in active and reserve duty in the Army, retiring as a Command Sergeant Major from the Military Police Corps. He trained for 12 weeks at the FBI National Academy and served five years at the Military Discipline Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the media in front of his home last July about an alleged attempt on his life.
courtesy of KTVK-TV
Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the media in front of his home last July about an alleged attempt on his life.

Robertson joined the sheriff's office in 1964. In his 29 years with the department, he spent 15 years working in the jails, reaching the position of commander of institutional services. Robertson also served as deputy commander of security for both the Superior and Justice courts of Maricopa County.

Still, the Arizona Republic says he's not qualified to be sheriff.

"Robertson, however well intended, simply fails to convince that he has the top-level management experience necessary to lead the sheriff's office in one of the nation's largest and fastest growing counties," the newspaper says.

"I have no idea where that came from," Robertson says of his snubbing.

If elected, Robertson says he would:

• Reorganize the upper echelon of the sheriff's office. Arpaio, he says, has created an extremely top-heavy administration by continuing to award chief deputy-level jobs to political cronies. "They have so many people running the publicity machine and running internal investigations of potential political enemies," Robertson says. "I would move as many of those people as possible out of those offices and into patrol cars and into jails."

• Propose raises for detention officers, deputies and civilian employees to bring them into line with similar law enforcement agencies. "The people in the field are being ignored," Robertson says. "The turnover is out of hand, the morale is in the tank and because of that, everything is understaffed. You've got a terribly dangerous situation in the jails."

• Request a detailed state-run audit of the office's books. "They have been moving money for jail maintenance to pay for frills. Besides putting people in danger, they're just setting the county up for tons of lawsuits."

• Create an environment that would help reduce the number of lawsuits and end the use of private attorneys for cases in which the county attorney should represent the department. Robertson says Arpaio has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars by refusing representation by his bitter enemy, county attorney Rick Romley. Robertson would offer reinstatement to several ex-employees who presently have "legitimate" multimillion-dollar wrongful termination cases pending against Arpaio.

"I just want to return professionalism and dignity to the sheriff's office," he says.

Robertson admits he has an uphill battle, but he is much more upbeat about his chances than outside observers.

Election observers predict only about 15 percent of the county's registered Republicans will participate in the upcoming primary. People aren't too interested in this primary because there are few high-profile races. But Robertson says low voter turnout is on his side. Typically, when there's little interest in a Republican primary, the people who still vote en masse are retired people. Robertson feels his grassroots, hand-to-mouth campaign has more of a chance at this bottleneck.

The problem is, those same people have tended to be Arpaio's strongest supporters.

"We just have to get the truth out to them," Robertson says.

Beginning last week, about 40 of Robertson's supporters began targeting Sun City, Sun City West, parts of Scottsdale and the retirement villages of the East Valley, all strongholds for Joe Arpaio's "tough on criminals" mythology.

Robertson's people will be calling residents in those areas. They'll also be distributing leaflets.

Robertson is a little late in starting up his campaign machine. And Arpaio has him badly outgunned financially (Arpaio has raised about $80,000; Robertson has raised a little more than $9,000). By now, you've surely heard one of Arpaio's radio spots or seen one of his four-foot-by-eight-foot red, white and blue campaign signs. Robertson has fewer radio spots and smaller and fewer signs.

And Robertson grumbles that the Republic and local television seem intent on giving Arpaio free campaign ads. Last month on Channel 3, Arpaio was given an on-camera makeover. Last Sunday, the Republic ran a small jobs-page story in which Arpaio reminisced about his first job and the values it taught him.

"Jeez, nobody has asked me about the nice paper route I had as a kid," Robertson says with gentle venom.

But Robertson has one big trump card -- all those law enforcement organizations that are supporting him. He says hundreds of law enforcement personnel from throughout Arizona are calling friends and family in Maricopa County, explaining to them why they should vote for Robertson (or, in reality, why they should not vote for Arpaio).

"There's a big move to get the word out that this guy is terrible for the men and women who must work under him," Robertson says. "And in an election like this, we feel this kind of grassroots movement could have a powerful impact."

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