Larry Dever Is a Real Arizona Sheriff
Larry Dever, sheriff of Cochise County since 1997, dialed Paul Babeu's cell phone on the morning of February 18.
Overnight, he'd read a story going viral on the New Times website. It was about the Pinal County sheriff, a political ally of Dever's and a Republican candidate for a U.S. Congressional seat in newly formed District 4.
Babeu allegedly had threatened his Mexican-born ex-lover with "deportation" if word of their gay union went public (see "Babeu Revealed" on our website). The news and the photographs of the libidinous Babeu, in various states of undress, stunned the usually unflappable Dever.
New Times cover story
The two sheriffs had been connected politically since shortly after Babeu took office in early 2009.
They had risen to the forefront of the anti-illegal-immigration movement as it gained traction nationally, due in part to the March 2010 murder of beloved fourth-generation Cochise County rancher Rob Krentz. The 58-year-old Krentz was shot to death by a still-unidentified person, purportedly an undocumented alien, on his family ranch about 10 miles from the Mexico border east of Douglas.
The murder happened a day after Krentz's brother, Phil, reported pot-smuggling activity on the 35,000-acre ranch that led to the arrests of eight Mexican nationals.
Krentz's death (see "Badlands" and "Cowboy Down," June 3 and June 10, 2010) was a flashpoint for the already hot-button issue of what to do about the millions of illegal aliens in this country. The murder of a good friend sickened, frustrated, and angered Sheriff Dever, but it didn't really open his eyes to the conundrum surrounding undocumented migrants.
Berating federal authorities for their ongoing failures to get a firm handle on illegal-immigration enforcement has been one of Dever's main missions since he first was elected sheriff more than 15 years ago.
Paul Babeu convinced the veteran sheriff that he was of like mind on the issue after taking office in Pinal County in January 2009, and Dever soon gave him a public stamp of approval.
Babeu was a shooting star. He quickly became a darling of Fox News, a ubiquitous talking head on immigration and border issues. Pinal County is in central Arizona, about 85 miles from the U.S.-Mexico line, but it has faced serious drug- and human-trafficking issues.
The pair became vocal supporters of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the strict and highly controversial anti-illegal-immigrant law that legislators were considering at the time of the Krentz murder and that Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a few months later.
The U.S. Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit hoping to block SB 1070, saying that it would lead to racial profiling by police. A federal judge in Phoenix agreed and issued a temporary restraining order in July 2010 against key provisions of the law — a ruling the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld last April.
The SB 1070 case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the State of Arizona appealed its loss, and the high court was scheduled to hear oral arguments as this story went to press.
Larry Dever was slated to attend that April 25 hearing in Washington, D.C.
Supported by private funding last year from a shadowy right-wing group out of Iowa, Dever — with the permission of his Board of Supervisors — hired a Scottsdale law firm to file a "friend of the court" legal brief explaining his point of view on SB 1070, essentially that it's good for law enforcement.
(Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, Tucson police chief Roberto Villasenor, and retired Phoenix police chief Jack Harris were among many other law enforcement officials who recently submitted their own briefs opposing the law. Dupnik earlier called it an "abomination" and "national embarrassment," and vowed not to implement it.)
Babeu's successful courtship of Dever provided him with an immediate level of credibility because Cochise County's sheriff is widely respected, even in circles that consider his position on illegal immigration and SB 1070 dangerously myopic and intractable.
Last year, Babeu gave Dever a large, exquisitely framed photograph of the two of them alongside U.S. Senator John McCain at a press conference.
Babeu scribbled a few thoughts about Dever on the photo with a silver marker: "You're a great friend and excellent sheriff. Thanks for all your mentoring."
Dever never did find a place for it in his Bisbee office, instead sticking it against a wall, facing inward.
"Symbolic in hindsight, huh?" he said a few weeks ago, allowing himself a wry smile. "Paul is someone I am not comfortable with at this point."
But on that Saturday morning in February, as Babeu was about to face the media to try to keep the scandal from spinning out of control, Larry Dever reached out with his morning phone call.
Dever says he wasn't sure what he was going to say, but he just couldn't fathom why a popular lawman and aspiring congressman would be so dumb as to post provocative photos and reveal intimate details of his sex life — on gay websites, no less.
Dever says he also was struggling with the revelations about Babeu's homosexuality, which he says he knew nothing about until reading the story.
"Paul's life is his life," Dever says. "But if he wants to be a public official in Arizona, well, that might not be playing out for him as he planned. I didn't see it coming, but . . . he might have told us [sheriffs] something about his personal life if it was that loosey-goosey. We were blindsided. I'm not big on that."
Dever says Babeu didn't respond to his phone call or to an e-mail he also sent that day. The pair still has not communicated.
"Life is full of surprises, good and bad," says Dever, with a backward sweep of a hand as if to brush away Babeu. "Loyalty and trust is my big thing. I have to have that in my life, and I do. Honest, you don't have to agree with me or my politics — or even like my dogs — for us to get along. Just be straight up with me, tell me what you're really thinking."
He stops for a moment to reconsider, this lawman with a sense of humor as dry as a Cochise County drought.
"Helps if you like the dogs."
Larry Dever's view of illegal Latino migrants is about as conservative as you might expect of a rural Arizona sheriff with a constituency that is almost 80 percent Anglo.
Though he does express admiration for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers assigned to the border in his county, Dever despises those in the federal government who "don't have a darned clue what is really happening on the ground level."
He remains appalled by "Fast and Furious," the Obama administration's disastrous "gun-walking" program, in which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents watched but did not arrest buyers of thousands of high-powered rifles, hoping to trace the weapons to the Mexican cartels.
The ATF lost track of about 1,700 of the weapons, some of which later turned up at violent crime scenes in Mexico and in the United States. Investigators discovered two "Fast and Furious" rifles at the site of the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near Rio Rico in Santa Cruz County, west of Cochise County.
"Indefensible," Dever says. "Tragically idiotic."
The sheriff worked the anti-illegal-immigration trail pretty much alone for years before it became a mainstream issue. Few politicians outside of southeast Arizona gave him more than lip service, maybe because Cochise County has a population of only about 120,000 — a minimal voting bloc statewide.
Dever says his thinking that "illegal immigration was something for the feds to worry about, not us at the sheriff's level," evolved because of what he what he saw on the job, not from any preconceived bias.
"It became clear to me after my first election that I would have to sit down with everybody, no matter where they were politically — far left, far right, closed borders, totally open borders — and do more listening than talking," Dever says. "Having gleaned everything I could through those exchanges and experiencing what I was experiencing led me to who I am now on this whole issue."
The sheriff says he knows of his hard-line image among "ACLU types who see everyone like myself who's against amnesty and open borders as racists, or whatever. They don't know me or what I'm about or what my county is about."
By 2000, Cochise County had become the funneling zone for hundreds of thousands of migrants who previously entered the United States through the San Diego and El Paso sectors. The vast majority would cross into the States and hightail it to job opportunities in the Phoenix area and beyond.
Ranchers and other residents on or near the border took a monumental hit, with their land continually getting trashed by passersby, their livestock stolen or killed, water lines slashed, and their homes brazenly burglarized.
Some of the migrants were flat-out criminals looking to score a rob-and-run on their way through El Norte. Others were far more benign, desperate for food and water after often-brutal treks to the supposed Promised Land.
The dramatic influx came as a result of what a top federal immigration official later dubbed the "unintended consequences" of a President Bill Clinton-era enforcement policy. It pushed that tidal wave of Latino migrants toward and into the Cochise County desert, whose relentless summer heat and treacherous mountains are as magnificent to behold as they are perilous.
By 1998, Dever's deputies had begun seeing a growing number of dead undocumented immigrants in the desert and mountains, as well as a decided increase in property and other crimes near the border.
Dever knew that the answer — if there was such a thing — to controlling the onslaught of migrants through his county wasn't just to "complete the danged fence," à la John McCain's oft-quoted comment as he walked along the border with Paul Babeu for a 2010 political ad.
In a 1989 New Times story, Dever, then a major with the Sheriff's Office, said about the incessant drug smuggling into Cochise County from Mexico: "They're always going to bring it across. We are a major-league transfer zone, where lots of money and dope exchange hands on a wholesale basis."
That was two years after the chief of the Border Patrol's Tucson sector was quoted in Arizona Sheriff Magazine: "Within the last year, we've been mandated by Congress to gain control of the border. And we're going to do that along the southern border, whether it's narcotics, terrorists, criminals, or whatever."
Didn't happen, and Dever says he never expected it to, then or now.
"You're not going to catch them all, especially the criminal element," the sheriff says. "But with dramatically improved technology, aerial assets, and increased Border Patrol presence, the feds should be able, within a reasonable period of time, to detect almost every incursion and be able to mount a reasonable response for an interdiction. But if there are repercussions only for a percentage of them after they get caught, then what happens? Repeat customers."
Without question, it's much harder to cross into the States now than ever because of the escalation in recent years of Border Patrol agents, highway checkpoints, steel walls, vehicle barriers, and that advanced "technology" Dever mentions.
But Cochise County, with its 83 1/2 miles of border with Mexico in southeast Arizona, remains a prime entry point for what the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001 called "increasingly sophisticated" drug- and people-smuggling operations operated by competing cartels.
This runs counter to last year's triumphant comment by Homeland Security Secretary and ex-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano that "the border is better now than it ever has been."
To the contrary, the Justice Department's most recent National Drug Threat Assessment notes: "Major Mexican-based [cartels] are solidifying their dominance of the U.S. wholesale drug trade. [Their] preeminence comes from a competitive advantage based on several factors, including access to and control of smuggling routes across the U.S. Southwest border."
A critical chunk of those routes are in Cochise County.
Well under the speed limit, Larry Dever creeps his pickup truck along a quiet two-lane road between Willcox and his home in St. David.
The conversation veers to something from years ago when, Dever says, he happened across one of his deputies who had detained some migrants and was awaiting the Border Patrol's arrival.
Dever could see that this group surely wasn't part of any "cartel" — no drugs or weapons, little of anything with them but the ratty clothes on their backs, beaten-up backpacks, and plastic garbage bags stuffed with their worldly belongings.
Dever is fluent in Spanish, the result of a two-year Mormon mission in Central America about four decades ago. He says he sat down that day and spoke to the downtrodden migrants.
Recalling his mission from 1970 to '72, he says, "I met some of the best people of the world when I lived down there — they would do anything for you. My heart hurts for the conditions that those folks live in. That day on the road, I heard about their difficult lives. I knew it was true. They pleaded with me, 'Why don't you just let us go?' But I took a sworn oath, a vow, to uphold our laws, and I told them that's what I do."
This memory leads the sheriff to another, more global observation:
"It's criminal of the federal government — and not just this administration, but every one before — to leave the seed planted in the minds of everyone trying to cross that damnable desert that they can make it with impunity and without any kind of real danger or any repercussions.
"There are dangers of all kinds — from the environment, bandits, rip crews, everywhere. But because we as a nation have been so lax in our enforcement efforts, they think they can just come across and do what they do, which sometimes is to just find work and other times to do some really bad things."
It is unexpected insights such as these that reveal Larry Dever's unusually complicated and thoughtful nature, which sets him apart from puffed-up publicity hounds Babeu and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, with whom he often is linked.
"If you are looking for a real sheriff in Arizona, it's not Babeu or Arpaio. It's Larry Dever," says Pat Call, chairman of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors.
"He is the opposite of an Arpaio, thank God. He would never do something off-the-wall and then force county taxpayers pay for it down the road. He doesn't pander to the media. Larry has a number of unusual qualities. One is that he's a very bright guy, but he carries it very lightly. Most people intuitively trust him. He has an understated passion, but being a pragmatist, knows how the world works. He may be soft-spoken and careful, but his words aren't soft."
The pragmatism of which Pat Call speaks is critical to knowing how Dever thinks.
"I deal with absolute hawks who tell me, 'They came into our country illegally, and they should serve their sentence first for that and then be deported,'" Dever says.
"Well, how much do these people really want to spend on our jails? How high do they really want their taxes?
"It would be easy for me to say, 'You cross the border and we catch you, you're going to jail, line in the sand.' Not going to happen. The system can't absorb that kind of pressure. I'm not going to suggest that I'm a moderate on the whole issue, but I'm not a hawk, either," he insists. "There are shrill voices on both sides, and my job is to try to keep the lid on."
The sheriff catches himself.
"Don't you dare make me sound like a liberal!" he tells New Times, chuckling at the thought. "The folks in Cochise County know that I will stand side by side with anyone who needs to protect himself from a threat from an illegal alien or from an American citizen. God knows, they're not going to get much help from the federal government."
Even when he's in the nation's capital, Dever wears cowboy boots and one of his trademark Stetsons, as Cochise County sheriffs have done since time immemorial. He's no different on the Beltway than he is in the border town of Naco, a genteel, white-haired man holding forth in a steady, deadpan twang that commands respect, if not agreement, from most corners.
It was on one of those D.C. trips that the sheriff met John Bailey, an oft-published professor at Georgetown University and an expert on Mexican policy issues and politics.
The two differ on key immigration-related issues, including the viability of SB 1070 and how or even whether to move certain undocumented migrants into some kind of legal status.
Dever scoffs at the accusation that law enforcement would be free under SB 1070 to promiscuously profile pretty much anyone of color.
"We've been asking people where they are from, when we have a good reason legally to stop them, for as long as I've been a cop," he says. "We wouldn't have the right under 1070 to stop everyone just because we wanted to, and we wouldn't."
But philosophical differences — Dever calls the idea of comprehensive immigration reform "bullpucky," and Bailey does not — haven't kept the men from continuing their healthy dialogue.
"Larry is an exceptional guy, extremely bright, and very engaging personally," Bailey says. "He thinks about things and tries to improve his position with logic, not with screaming and yelling that someone with an opposite viewpoint is stupid or a nut or whatever. And I'll tell you this: He knows his border, his county, inside and out."
Bailey says he trusts Dever enough "as a reasonable lawman that having the  law in his hands wouldn't trouble me. It's some of those other 14 sheriffs in Arizona that would worry me."
Bailey primarily speaks of Joe Arpaio.
Surprisingly, it took Arpaio years in office to realize that declaring war on undocumented brown-skinned migrants was good for votes and publicity, his stock-in-trade. Starting in early 2006, Arpaio's deputies began their "immigration sweeps" of hapless Latino corn vendors, day laborers, and car-wash attendants, all with TV cameras in tow.
"Joe is Joe," Dever replies drily to a question from philanthropist-farmer Howard Buffett at a private get-acquainted lunch last month at Buffett's home in Willcox. "We get along fine when it suits him. He does things how he does them, and I do things how I do them. We have different styles and ideas on some things."
(Buffett is the eldest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and his foundation oversees a farming operation about 50 miles from the New Mexico border.)
Dever continues to discuss Arpaio with New Times after the spirited meeting with Buffett, and something he says unknowingly echoes Professor Bailey's concerns.
"As with anything, we always have to police ourselves, 1070 or no 1070," Dever says. "Hopefully, we wouldn't bring discredit to our agency by anything we might do. I'm not saying that Joe does that, though some people think he does. He's the sheriff up there and has some autonomy in his county, and he's doing what the majority of the people up there apparently want him to do. But that's not the way we do business here, nor do we intend to."
Dever is referring, in part, to the "show busts" of mostly small businesses that Arpaio's agency seems to execute on slow news days. Dever does strongly favor sanctions against business owners who hire undocumented workers: "Hiring the cheapest worker is just wrong, and that's part of what I'm talking about with immigration enforcement."
But, he adds quickly, "We turn over what information we get to ICE, because that's what [it does]. We don't have the money or manpower to do what the feds are supposed to be doing, and I always try to keep the lines of communication open with them, for better or worse."
Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake tells New Times that he has faith in Dever's tough common-sense approach to the emotion-charged issue.
"President Obama and his people spend so much time trying to convince the American public that the border is secured," says Flake, a nationally known moderate Republican who wants to replace retiring Jon Kyl as an Arizona U.S. senator. "That flies in the face of reality down there. Larry's not exactly popular with Janet Napolitano and the current administration because he doesn't go along with their spin. But you can argue that no one knows the local issues on that border better than him."
Flake chuckles when asked how Dever might fare if he were to run for national office.
"Why ruin a good man?" Flake says.
Popular as Larry Dever is in Cochise County, southern Arizona politicians probably need not worry about him encroaching on their turf.
Dever's not interested in seeking other office.
For one thing, his wife of 38 years, Nancy, a longtime special-education teacher and consultant, wouldn't be happy if he did.
"I still like him a little and would like to spend more time with him," she says, smiling to suggest that she likes him a lot more than a little.
For another, Dever wouldn't get to be sheriff anymore, and that is all he wants to be. He is running unopposed this November for another four-year stint.
"I see all these people out there who are looking for work, and I do work that I love," he says. "I'll have a hard time walking away from it."
The father of six grown sons, grandfather to 13 and counting, and friend to those three golden retrievers can be something of a homebody. He says his favorite view in the world is of the rugged Dragoon Mountains out the back door of his home in tiny St. David.
The Dragoons was where Chief Cochise and his band of Chiricahua Apaches fled from the U.S. Army in the early 1860s, about two decades before the chief had an Arizona county posthumously named after him.
St. David is a town of about 1,800 people in the San Pedro Valley about 15 miles west of storied Tombstone and 10 miles south of Interstate 10. Named after an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (David Patten) who died in 1838, a majority of St. David's residents are Mormon.
The Dever residence sits at the end of an unpaved road lined with mature pecan and almond trees. It's cozy, welcoming, and has the lived-in look befitting a place where six very active boys were raised.
Larry and Nancy Dever had their home built in 1977 for $24,600, and they stayed put, adding a wing as their brood expanded.
All the kids are out on their own now — one is an Army major, another a firefighter, three are city police officers around Arizona (none in Cochise County), and the youngest works at Sky Harbor International Airport.
Dever's parents, Kline and Annie, live about 100 yards away, retired long ago from jobs as a foreman for the Arizona Department of Transportation and at Apache Nitrogen Products, respectively.
The second-born of three brothers, Dever was brought up in St. David, where he went to the quaint high school (graduating class: 22) that sits on the main drag, Highway 80.
He describes an upbringing in which sports (especially his beloved baseball — he was a defensive star for the St. David Tigers in high school), hunting, and fishing kept him out of trouble most of the time.
Dever's first paid job at 14 was hoeing cotton near St. David for 50 cents an hour.
"Worst job I ever had," he says. "You couldn't even see the end of the row when you started."
Throughout high school, Dever worked as a laborer for a local guy who was building a home/bomb shelter. He started at $1 an hour, which was bumped to $1.75 an hour by his senior year.
Dever moved up to Tucson after graduation to attend the University of Arizona. But the small-town boy was not ready for the rigors of life in what for him was a big city.
After struggling mightily there for a year, Dever says, he decided to go on his two-year church mission. He wasn't devout, but he looked at the mission as an opportunity.
His assignment to Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras wasn't cushy.
"For the first six weeks, I was the most miserable human being around," Dever says. "I was living in a place that was filthy, contaminated. Then, for whatever reason, I told myself one day to just immerse myself in the culture, the language, the mission. I met Mormon guys down there who were so pious, so stiff, that they couldn't have fun. You can't do evangelical work preaching the Gospel right unless you learn to love, like, and appreciate the people you're meeting."
Dever returned to the States as an anemic 21-year-old who weighed 129 pounds — 25 pounds lighter than when he left.
He moved back to Tucson for about a year, where he worked as a bank teller, among other jobs. In 1973, Dever enrolled at Brigham Young University, where he got a part-time campus gig as a Spanish instructor for aspiring missionaries.
It was in Provo where he met spunky coed Nancy Meister, a Southern California girl who had converted to Mormonism as a teen.
The two got married in Los Angeles in December 1973 and moved within the year to San Diego.
For a stretch, the young couple lived in a tiny flat at a mortuary. They got paid to pick up bodies from the morgue in a hearse. Dever completed three-plus years at San Diego State, where he majored in English and minored in Spanish but never graduated.
The Devers' eldest son, Brendon (the Army major), was born in 1975. Nancy already was pregnant with their second boy when Larry's uncle, Burt Goodman, then a high-ranking officer with the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, asked him in late '75 if he wanted to become a deputy.
The 24-year-old father and husband said yes.
Dever rose within the ranks quickly and was the agency's SWAT team sergeant within a few years. Another lifelong St. David resident, Jimmy Judd, was the sheriff by then, and he'd always liked Dever, considering him respectful without being obsequious.
The centerpiece of Dever's career as a sheriff's deputy came on October 22, 1982. That morning, a shotgun blast fired by a member of a violent religious cult narrowly missed his head during a shootout in the fields of Miracle Valley, an outpost between Bisbee and Sierra Vista.
Dever suffered shrapnel wounds to his face during the melee, which started as a large number of sheriff's deputies tried to serve arrest warrants on cult members.
The Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church was a 100-strong, all-black congregation with a charismatic woman leader who had led them to the Valley from Chicago a few years earlier.
One sheriff's deputy died several months after suffering serious injuries during the clash, and two church members died of gunshot wounds at the scene. Many deputies were injured, some seriously, after getting pummeled with metal pipes, rocks, and two-by-fours.
Scars remain from that haunting day, literally and figuratively.
For years afterward, Dever says, he pondered the magnitude of the episode, which ended after the group returned to Chicago in the aftermath of the nationally publicized shootout. He was reminded of Miracle Valley in 2005 when "Minuteman" vigilante groups moved to Cochise County to confront suspected migrants.
"We had been burned by the [state] Department of Public Safety and the state politicians during Miracle Valley and eventually got put in an untenable situation," Dever says. "We were urged to compromise [with the cult members] when compromise wasn't called for. And we trusted that people in Phoenix knew more about what to do in a crisis situation down here than we did. They didn't."
The sheriff says he feared a similar incident between deputies and Minutemen and worked hard to keep the state and feds in a secondary role, not always successfully.
"As the conflict between citizens and illegal aliens became more prevalent and intense," he recalls, "I had that same looming sense, that feeling, that atmosphere [as] before the Miracle Valley thing blew up. There were people who were thinking it would take a shootout to get [the Minutemen] to leave. But they left, and no one got killed."
Dever also has to deal with locals who are pathological haters of all brown-skinned "invaders" and who argue that deportation isn't harsh enough punishment.
This list includes Glenn Spencer, a Sierra Vista-area Mexican basher and president of the American Border Patrol, whose allies include avowed white supremacists and anti-Semites.
"I've listened to Glenn, and he goes out into a sphere that I just can't abide," Dever says. "Plain and simple, he is a bigot, even though he has the right to speak his mind and live where he wants if he doesn't break the law."
Dever goes on, "There are people in Cochise County and elsewhere who say that anybody who comes across the border just ought to be shot. But most folks down here still show compassion, even if it's gotten to the point where the aggressiveness of even the garden-variety illegal alien coming across just looking for work has increased. Our ranchers and citizens used to provide some sort of remedy with water or food, if not shelter and sanctuary. Not so much anymore, and with good reason."
Larry Dever is getting wooed during this political season like a head cheerleader before the prom by politicos seeking his endorsement, or at least a photo-op with him at the border.
Naturally, most are conservative Republicans, though an occasional Democrat drops by.
One has been Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Carmona, a longtime acquaintance of Dever's and a onetime Pima County sheriff's deputy who went on to become a doctor and serve as the nation's surgeon general.
Of Puerto Rican descent, Carmona is in favor of immigration reform, while Dever is all about immigration enforcement.
But Carmona recently said this in his campaign literature:
"First and foremost, we need to ensure our borders are safe and secure. We need to overhaul our immigration laws and support a comprehensive approach that is practical, tough, and fair.
"That means securing the border, cracking down on drug and human smuggling, punishing companies who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and eliminating a nefarious labor market that exploits those living in the shadows of our society."
Except for the left-leaning phrase "comprehensive approach," this sounds similar to Larry Dever's position.
The sheriff says he won't give endorsements until after the primaries are completed, though it's doubtful that Richard Carmona will win his nod over Jeff Flake (if Flake beats wealthy Mesa businessman Wil Cardon).
Rich Winkler, a retired Cochise County Superior Court judge who operates a cattle ranch near the Arizona/New Mexico/Mexico borders with his wife Mary, has a unique perspective on his sheriff.
Winkler grew up in Illinois as a staunch Republican, but his allegiance to the GOP ended some time ago.
"I wouldn't vote for a Republican if you put a gun to my head," he says. "That party and its 'social conservatives' are going down into the pit with their telling us that we have to think like them or else. Not a brain cell working there. But then there's Larry."
Winkler says he and his wife get a kick out of Dever's being a Republican and a Mormon, "and we're neither."
He says, "We agree almost 100 percent with his take on immigration because we live here and know what he's saying is true. Where we live continues to be a smuggling zone, though they've been leaving us alone for a while now. My wife puts it best about Larry. She says, 'I like him, and I trust him. He's one of us.'"
Winkler tells the story of Concepcion "Connie" Hickman, a Mexican-born woman from Pirtleville, an enclave just outside of Douglas, who died in 2010 at 91.
Hickman loved two things more than anything, Winkler says, the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party. She was legendary in the Douglas area for bringing out the vote for local candidates she favored, all Democrats, of course.
"You even wouldn't think of calling on her if you were Republican," Winkler says. "But Larry did [during his first campaign for sheriff, in 1996], and she let him in for a visit. I think she fell in love with him that day, and she kept a picture of him out for everyone to see until she died. I'm sure he was the only Republican she ever voted for. She told me, 'He's really a nice man — and he speaks such beautiful Spanish.'"
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