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Why Sheriff Joe Actually Is Nervous About the Recall Effort Against Him

Angry shadow warrior "Bernie Paluck" attacks Dennis Gilman's camera outside state GOP headquarters.
dennis gilman

One of the many lessons of the 2011 recall of former state Senate President Russell Pearce is that Arizona's reporters, pundits, and TV know-it-alls are far from omniscient.

In fact, they have a learning curve as long as the coastline of Africa. Well, at least most of them.

Just as they derided and pooh-poohed the Pearce recall effort, they are doing the same for the campaign to recall Sheriff Joe Arpaio, led by a new group, Respect Arizona, and supported by Citizens for a Better Arizona, the folks who successfully recalled Pearce.

However, CBA president Randy Parraz has something these dunderheads don't: vision. And this year, his vision is of Arpaio's being toppled — reminiscent of the giant iron statue of Saddam Hussein pulled down by Iraqis in 2003 after the city was captured by U.S. forces.

Unlike many in the Fourth Estate, Arpaio's money man and campaign strategist, Chad Willems, believes the recall could work. At least that's what Willems told the assembled alter kockers at a recent meeting of Arpaio's "shadow army" at Arizona Republican Party Headquarters in Phoenix.

"A lot of people don't think this recall is for real," Willems told 30 or so pro-Joe senior citizens. "They think it's a joke. They think it's a political ploy . . . Even the media has largely ignored it, because they don't believe it."

Then, Willems lowered the boom:

"This is deadly serious," he said. "If our opposition — Parraz and his group — get the money that they need for these signatures, they're going to have a candidate on that ballot, and Joe Arpaio goes away."

I should mention that Parraz is not the chairman of Respect Arizona. Rather, attorney William Fisher is.

But Parraz still is the face of the recall, the driving force, just as he was in the recall of Pearce. He might as well have horns and a spiked tail as far as local Republicans are concerned.

Also, I should mention that neither I nor any media were allowed into the meeting of the shadow army, assembled by Maricopa County Republican Committee chairman and all-around teabagger nut A.J. LaFaro.

It's LaFaro who gave this oldster brigade its name in an e-mailed call to arms — in which he referred to the recall folks as "domestic terrorists."

So how do I know what Willems said?

Let's just say that a concerned citizen made a tape recording of the meeting and then gave it to me and local videographer Dennis Gilman.

Portions of that tape will be released on my Feathered Bastard blog shortly after this column is published.

Gilman and I were on a sidewalk outside the meeting with other reporters. You might have seen us on TV news, where a geezer wearing a name tag identifying himself as "Bernie Paluck" pushed Gilman's camera with an anti-recall sign.

Gilman declined to fight back or file a police report, though LaFaro stated in the meeting that he called the cops after the incident. And true enough, several Phoenix police blue-and-whites soon showed up; some of the cops who got out were dressed in tactical gear, no less.

They just as quickly left. By that time, batshit Bernie was back inside and all was calm. Still, the likes of Paluck don't bode well for one of Willems' plans for combating the recall, which I'll get to in a second.

Willems told the gathering that it all was a matter of math. Recall Arizona needs a little more than 335,000 signatures from county voters to force a special election. In reality, the group will need about a half-million signatures — just to have a cushion, as many of those signatures undoubtedly will be thrown out when vetted by the County Elections Office.

If they get the signatures, Arpaio's done, Willems said. All the anti-Arpaio forces will need is a Republican — a retired cop, preferably — to run against him.

"The county is no longer 50 percent Republican," he lamented. "It's almost a third and a third and a third now: Republican, Democrat, and Independent . . . They'll run a Republican against Arpaio, and they'll peel off 50 to 20 percent of the Republican vote. Game over."

What about throwing an Olivia Cortes or a Mike Stauffer on the ballot to break up the vote?

Willems, who ran Pearce's losing recall campaign in 2011, told the seniors there is a problem with such a tactic in this case. Potential candidates will have to get about 30,000 signatures in 30 days to be placed on the ballot as a competitor to Joe, making it an unlikely option.

Also, Arpaio spent almost all of the more than $8 million he raised for the 2012 campaign. His most recent finance report shows him with $338,600.

That's a lot, and Willems already is working on raising more, but will he have enough to run a campaign and backdoor-finance a sham candidate?

I'll acknowledge that Willems may have been scaring the codgers on purpose to get them pumped up for the task he had for them.

Essentially, he wants them to be part of a "blocking campaign," during which they will show up at libraries, grocery stores, parks, and other places where the circulators solicit signatures and urge voters not to sign, using a few talking points, such as the cost of a recall election and that Arpaio just won re-election last year.

Willems urged the pensioners not to lay hands on anyone or to use obscenities. But as Bernie's actions, and the actions of a few others there that day showed, the oldsters get stirred up easily. And some are armed, this being Arizona.

Willems claims he just wants to slow down the recall, rob it of momentum. If the sigs are slow coming in, he reckons, it will be difficult for Parraz and others to raise funds from donors who'll want to see certain "benchmarks" met before they sink more cash into the campaign.

The circulators, some from out of state, Willems said, will be spooked easily by anyone "blocking" the source of their income. They may move on to another spot or they may quit and go home.

"Signature-gatherers are inherently lazy people," Willems told his audience. "They're going to make enough money per day to go buy their booze or dope or whatever they're gonna do for the rest of the day and start all over tomorrow."

Indeed, Willems claimed to have spies in the Parraz camp and even some circulators informing him of the sig count, day by day.

He told the fossils that he has some hope that legislation sponsored by Republican House member Steve Smith could be of assistance.

Though probably unconstitutional, Smith's House Bill 2282 would create a recall primary that removes the threat of a recall's open election, wherein anyone — D, R, or I —can vote.

The bill is stuck in committee. Even if it passes both houses and is signed by the governor, Willems seemed unsure whether it would affect a possible Arpaio recall election.

Willems is a man who oozes self-interest. He was spanked in the Pearce recall, and Arpaio is the guy who fills his coffers. Moreover, Willems tells others privately what he told the shadows at GOP headquarters.

Finally, I also know through one well-placed source that Arpaio has expressed worry and aggravation about the possibility of a recall election.

So, doubting journalists, the threat of a recall is real. Arpaio and Willems are afraid. And if the recall committee obtains the necessary signatures, Joe's end may be at hand.


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