Let's face it, Joe Arpaio's going to win re-election November 2 to his fourth term as Maricopa County sheriff. He has no serious opposition.
But that doesn't mean a legal tornado isn't swirling around the self-proclaimed " toughest sheriff in America," who's more aptly the meanest/dumbest sheriff in America. Only time will tell whether that storm will be powerful enough to blow him out of his 19th-floor office in the Wells Fargo tower in downtown Phoenix.
Retired Mesa police department commander Dan Saban -- whose spirited Republican primary campaign revealed Arpaio's vulnerability -- intends to keep the pressure on Outlaw Joe.
Saban gave Arpaio the closest race in his 12-year tenure. In February, a poll showed Joe with more than 70 percent of Republicans on his side. In September, he won only 57 percent of Independents and Republicans voting in the primary.
Saban, 48, vows to run against Outlaw Joe in 2008 -- if the 72-year-old Arpaio lasts out his next term. Meantime, Saban is doing everything he can to get prosecutors to take a close look at Arpaio's Shawshank operation, hoping against hope that they can find enough to ruin his political nemesis.
"This guy needs to be taken before a grand jury," Saban tells me. "There are serious legal questions that need to be answered because he is manipulating the system using our tax dollars."
Saban has taken his plea for a criminal investigation of Arpaio to the state Attorney General's Office and to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. But neither decided to investigate the vindictive sheriff, despite receiving compelling evidence worth presenting to a grand jury.
"I'm disappointed that they are not willing to investigate," Saban says of Terry Goddard's and Rick Romley's offices. "But it isn't over because we have taken it to another authority. So we will see what they do."
That other authority is the Federal Bureau of Investigation's public corruption unit. It's clear from a conversation I had with an FBI official here that the agency is interested in the information Saban, and others, have presented concerning Arpaio. At this point, however, it's too early to tell whether a full federal investigation will result.
There are three sets of allegations against the sheriff's office that Saban has turned over to the FBI, two of which I have agreed not to divulge at this time. But one involves a leak to a TV station by Arpaio's office that Saban sexually assaulted his foster mother, when it was the foster mother, according to Saban, who assaulted him when he was a young teen-ager.
Leave it to a public servant like Joe to exploit a teenage sexual-assault victim to further his own political agenda and to attempt to punish an enemy.
"If Arpaio's willing to do this to me," Saban says, "he's willing to do this to anybody."
Don't expect to hear about whatever does or doesn't happen with the federal inquiry in the daily press. Most of the broadcast media unfortunately looks to the Arizona Republic to set the agenda for what's news in this town, and the state's largest daily steadfastly refuses to fulfill its public duty when it comes to Sheriff Geezer and his goons.
The gutless Republic would rather snuggle up to Arpaio than actually do in-your-face, confrontational reporting on the possible financial irregularities swirling around Arpaio, not to mention the deadly atrocities in his jails.
Even worse news for the egomaniacal sheriff is that he is now widely considered a huge political liability. You didn't see Arpaio hanging out with Dubya during the recent debates at ASU, did you?
It was Senator John McCain who covered the president's flank, not Outlaw Joe, who likes to brag that he is the president's main man in Phoenix. Not anymore. Not after all the bad press Joe's gotten during the last few months from New Times -- that wound up getting McCain's attention and the Bush administration's.
"You can see that things have started to move around Joe. He hasn't been a player, he hasn't been involved in photo ops with the president or any of the players in town," says Fred Taylor, state chairman of the African American Republicans Committee.
Taylor says he's been bombarding Bush's political advisers, including Karl Rove, with New Times' reports detailing Arpaio's serious problems.
The president's avoidance of Arpaio, Taylor says, "tells me that the information I'm shooting back east took hold."
As Arpaio's star continues to fade with GOP bigwigs, look for the sheriff to conduct police operations that will generate headlines -- like the unfolding heroin ring arrests in Scottsdale that Arpaio says includes students buying drugs on high school campuses. If this operation's anything like the big prostitution bust by the sheriff's goobers, these arrests will probably get thrown out, too, because of unbelievable MCSO stupidity.
Such, um, high-profile cases only mask Arpaio's embarrassing inability to hire the nearly 1,000 detention officers he needs to safely open and operate new jails in downtown Phoenix and at the Durango complex. Taxpayers have spent more than $500 million to get the jails built, but now they can't open because not enough qualified guards wants to work for a nutcase like Arpaio.
"There's a terrific hiring problem, and we don't think it's going to ease up at all," says Brian Livingston, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, which represents more than 6,500 police officers across the state.
Saban, meanwhile, wants to parlay his newly earned political stature into an appointment as U.S. Marshal for Arizona. The current marshal, David Gonzales, is on Governor Janet Napolitano's short list to become head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety early next year when the contract for director Dennis Garrett expires.
McCain will play a key role in a possible Marshal appointment because he will nominate a candidate to the president. The senator took time out a few hours before the Bush-Kerry debate last Thursday to return my call to discuss several issues, including Saban's desire to be considered for the post.
"Everything I know about Saban is he's a fine guy," McCain says. "But usually I kind of go slow on these things because I want to make sure we have the best-qualified people who want the job."
While Joe licks his wounds and Saban jockeys for position, what are voters to do in the upcoming general election?
Police organizations that endorsed Saban in the primary are refusing to back either of Arpaio's opponents in the general election -- Democrat Bobby Ayala and Independent W. Steven Martin.
It's rather depressing that even though Outlaw Joe's own detention officers' union despises him, the organization is not getting involved in the upcoming contest.
"We had the guy [Saban] that deserved to win, and we just can't find anything in these other two that gives us something we can support," says Michael Culhane, president of the Deputies Law Enforcement Association. The Arizona Police Association is taking the same stance, says Livingston.
Some Republican Party leaders who endorsed Saban in the primary are also sitting out endorsing in the race, even though Maricopa County Republican boss Tom Liddy says Arpaio has the party's full support.
Liddy, son of G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate infamy, is having a difficult time holding the troops in line when it comes to Arpaio.
"We are not going to support him in the general election," say Republican District 22 chairman Bill Norton -- who led a revolt against Arpaio after the sheriff publicly supported Democrat Napolitano in the 2002 gubernatorial race over Republican nominee Matt Salmon. Hardcore Republicans want Arpaio's hide for what is considered that unpardonable sin.
"But we are not going to come out against him," Norton says, "because in doing that, we would be doing the same thing we accused him of doing when he backed Napolitano."
Other Republican leaders are suggesting writing in Saban's name as a protest. Saban, however, cannot formally run as a write-in candidate because he ran in the primary.
Although it is all but certain that Arpaio will win November 2, Saban believes the sheriff is far from out of the legal woods for four more years.
Now, all that is needed is for a federal grand jury to start calling in Arpaio's inner circle of deputies and begin grilling them.
If that happens, Saban claims, Outlaw Joe's toast.
"If you put cops before a grand jury," Saban predicts, "they will bail on Joe in a second."