GQ magazine just published a damning portrait of Sheriff Joe by writer Alexander Provan titled "The Vigilante," and it couldn't come at better time. I know from experience that way too many reporters who come through town get snowed by our irascible, bulbous-nosed sheriff. They find him colorful and often end up writing pieces that gloss over everything the man does wrong, in favor of the myth of Joe as this leather-hide, tough-as-nails lawman, who just happens to play the clown.
Provan, to his credit, didn't let Arpaio's schmooze-schtick work on him. As a result, we get a portrait of Archie Bunker with a badge, whose Bull Connor turn is calculated and cynical, but also rationalized by his own 1950s world-view. Take this unguarded quote, which should make headlines and have political leaders denouncing him:
"All these people that come over, they could come with disease. There's no control, no health checks or anything. They check fruits and vegetables. How come they don't check people? No one talks about that! They're all dirty. I sent out 200 inmates into the desert, they picked up 18 tons of garbage that they bring in -- the baby diapers and all that. Where's everybody who wants to preserve the desert?"
Ironically, some of this is what they used to say about Italian immigrants of Joe's parents' generation when they come to this country. But it gets worse. Check out this comment made by Arpaio to the Biltmore Ladies Lunch Group, shortly before terrorizing a Hispanic-looking waitress by making her think he was going to ask for her papers, all to the delight of the ofay bluehairs in attendance:
"My daughter has adopted children of various ethnicities . . . I got a black, a Mexican with Down syndrome even. And yet I'm the racist, I'm the fascist, I'm the Hitler!"
It's a line Arpaio's said to others, and so comes as no surprise. Reminds me of James Watt's callous quote regarding his staff that prompted his resignation as U.S. Interior Secretary under Ronald Reagan: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple." The big difference is, Joe's saying this about his own family, children adopted by his daughter Sherry, and his son-in-law Phil Boas, who's on the editorial board at the Arizona Republic.
Aside from such revealing snippets, Provan understands a few subtleties that not all journos grasp when dealing with Arpaio and immigration. (He tells me he lived in Tucson for 10 years, and absorbed a lot about Arpaio that way.) For instance, Provan notes how Arpaio went after Patrick Haab in 2005 when Haab held several illegal immigrants hostage at gunpoint in a rest stop near Phoenix. Arpaio defended arresting Haab as the right thing to do, but faced a backlash from the nativists on it. County Attorney Andrew Thomas ended up dropping the charges against Haab, winning plaudits from the brown-bashers.
Provan correctly points to this incident as part of Arpaio's backwards learning curve on immigration. He notes how Arpaio took advantage of Thomas' interpretation of a human smuggling law, which allows those being brought in illegally to be prosecuted for, ahem, smuggling themselves. And he observes that despite the MCSO's self-aggrandizing figure of more than 30,000 undocumented persons collared, that the sheriff's office has "failed to catch any drug kingpins, break up any smuggling rings, or stanch the Mexican drug gang violence spilling over the border."
The GQ scribe also grasps the connection between the MCSO's obsession with illegal immigration and the rise of crime here locally, as well as the fact Joe's got 40,000 felony warrants outstanding and other business left undone. I love this line by Provan,
"Today, there's a Sheriff Joe-initiated illegal immigration hotline for Phoenicians to rat out their neighbors, and the "To Protect and Serve" logo on Maricopa County Sheriff's Office vans have been plastered over with "Help Sheriff Joe Arpaio Fight Illegal Immigration."
Provan also depicts the megalomania of the man, allowing Arpaio to put heel to tongue over and over again. Sadly, this piece will not be running in the magazine itself. But it should prove very popular online. It's definitely the best thing written about Arpaio since the New Yorker magazine profile in July.