It looks like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a Mormon problem.
Arpaio's prosecution and recent arrest of Don Stapley, one of five county supervisors, has reportedly upset local supporters of presidential candidate of Mitt Romney. Heather Sandstrom, a Mesa resident who's helped organize benefits for Romney in the past, says she's encountered a lot of resistance lately while trying to encourage people to attend a planned September 30 fund-raiser for Romney at Chase Field.
"Half the people I've called said if Arpaio's going, then they're not going," Sandstrom tells New Times.
It's easy to surmise that the Mormon connection must have something to do with this. The Republican ex-governor of Massachusetts is Mormon. Stapley's not only Mormon, he's the progeny of some of the Mormons who helped settle Arizona.
Arpaio's on the host committee for the event. Revenue earned from ticket sales -- costs range from $300 to $3,000 -- will go to Romney's political action committee, Free and Strong America.
Sandstrom, who says she's been "good friends" with Romney and his wife, Ann, for years, isn't sure whether Arpaio will be asked to excuse himself from the host committee. But in a recent letter to supporters, Sandstrom wrote, "It has been recommended" that Arpaio be removed from the committee.
"I think we'll do fine with the event," Sandstrom says. "I just know a lot of people that would have come who will not come."
Some were "adamant" that Arpaio's presence at the Romney event wasn't welcome, she says. Not only is she getting flak from folks she's been calling, but "many people" on the host committee at a recent meeting said they were hearing the same thing -- "they didn't want to come if Joe Arpaio was coming."
"It has to do with Don Stapley," says Sandstrom. "They know Don, and they're very upset."
Local PR consultant Jason Rose, who occasionally advises Arpaio and is also on the Romney event host committee, says he hasn't heard if Arpaio will end up disinvited.
Arpaio worked on Romney's behalf during the former govenor's bid last year to secure the Republican nomination for president, dissing his former compadre and Arizona's homeboy, Senator John McCain (who went on to trounce Romney in the primary). Arpaio "campaigned very hard" on Romney's behalf, making personal appearances in Michigan and Iowa, Rose says. Arpaio's obviously interested in keeping up that support for Romney's 2012 race.
"If something's changed in regards to the sheriff, that's for [Sandstrom] to say," he says.
(Side note on the Arpaio-Romney connection: Remember those fat cats who contributed to the dirty SCA fund that we've been writing incessantly about? Well, some of them were also contributors to the Romney campaign, which seems to be a clue about why they may have wanted to give cash to help Arpaio).
Sandstrom has been reminding local Romney supporters that what Arpaio is doing to Stapley "is no reflection on Mitt. Mitt's a great guy and stands for freedom and lower taxes. I'm sure he's not even aware what's going on with Don Stapley."
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Indeed, Romney, who plans to be at Chase Field for the event, is keeping his head down on the Arpaio-Stapley flap.
"No one here has any knowledge of the local situation that you described, so therefore we have no comment," says Romney spokesman Eric Fehmstrom, reached in Massachusetts by phone.
Romney will soon hear of the local situation, no doubt. And if attendance is down at his event and he thinks Arpaio's the reason, Romney may yet "defriend" the sheriff from his campaign.