With polls showing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio trailing in his head-to-head race against Democrat Paul Penzone, and with the first date in Arpaio's criminal case in federal court scheduled for October 11, Arpaio's campaign has gone negative against his rival, regurgitating a nasty, untrue accusation from their 2012 contest in a new attack ad.
The ad, which is akin to a TV hit piece Arpaio dropped on Penzone four years ago, inaccurately recounts a 2003 altercation between Penzone and his future ex-wife, Susan Hubbard, which resulted in the couple seeking orders of protection against each other for alleged minor incidents of assault.
As New Times reported the last time Penzone and Arpaio squared off, ultimately both orders of protection were dismissed by a superior court judge, but Arpaio's sinister 2012 ad painted Penzone as a wife beater, making reference to Penzone's time as the face of the Phoenix Police Department's Silent Witness program with the tagline: "Now the only silent witness is his ex-wife."
The new ad takes a similar tack, stating that Penzone "assaulted his ex-wife," who subsequently obtained an order of protection from the court, a purposeful twisting of what actually transpired. It also states, "This is the ad Paul Penzone doesn't want you to see," when in reality Penzone has been very forthcoming about what transpired between himself and his ex many years ago.
In 2012, Hubbard refused to be interviewed about the scuffle, and this lent credence to Arpaio's allegation. But in anticipation of Arpaio returning to the same bucket of slime this year, Penzone's attorneys called a press conference in June to announce that Hubbard had signed an affidavit indicating that Arpaio's campaign commercial in 2012 was "inaccurate and misleading," calling it "dirty politics" and "totally off-base."
In fact, Penzone and his wife were living apart in 2003, sharing custody of their 10-year-old son Austin as they underwent a divorce after 12 years of marriage. In the affidavit, Hubbard states that there were "a lot of highly-emotional issues going on at the end of the marriage, placing strain on both of us."
According to police reports concerning the incident, Penzone had stopped by Hubbard's residence in Glendale with their son Austin to pick up the boy's hockey equipment when an argument ensued between Penzone and Hubbard. Penzone later accused Hubbard of hitting him in the face with a hockey stick, and Hubbard accused Penzone of pushing her so that she hit her head on a door. Penzone, then a Phoenix police sergeant, called in the incident to the Glendale Police Department, and officers were dispatched to the scene, finding each parent with a minor contusion to support his or her side of the story.
The Glendale city attorney declined to prosecute either party, and after the parents' dueling protection orders were dismissed, the divorce was finalized with Hubbard and Penzone awarded joint custody of their son. Penzone was open about the issue in 2012 and discussed it with me early on in the campaign, in an effort to neutralize the inevitable attack from Arpaio. But in a tight, three-way race, with Arpaio boasting an enormous war chest, the attack ad hurt Penzone and helped the incumbent squeak out a win with 50.7 percent of the vote.
Four years later, Arpaio is adhering to the same playbook as last time: smear Penzone while painting himself as tough on crime.
But things are different in 2016. There is no spoiler candidate on the ballot as there was in 2012, a George Soros-funded independent-expenditure committee has been shelling out for anti-Joe mailers, and Penzone's ex is no longer silent.
States Hubbard in her affidavit:
In 2012, when this occurred, the coverage was unfair, overwhelming and intimidating. Although I wanted to clarify the record at the time, I did not believe my personal life should be a public topic. I cannot allow this dishonest representation to repeat itself, therefore I have chosen to provide this statement.
This letter will serve as my only public statement as my privacy and the well-being of my family is an absolute priority. Paul and I are very proud of the mutual commitment we have in co-parenting our son during our marriage and since the divorce. We always put his interest in our decision-making first and, like many other divorced parents, we worked through challenging moments.
I wish Paul the very best as he campaigns. He was a great policeman and will be a great sheriff.
Certainly, the Penzone camp was well prepared for Arpaio's recent sortie. His team has a website, ShamelessJoe.com, to rebut the allegations, and the Penzone team says a TV ad punching back at Arpaio is in the works. Finally, Penzone says he intends to file a defamation lawsuit against Arpaio, as Penzone's lawyers promised to do in June if the sheriff revived the false accusation.
"We're not going to just take it, get punched in the face, and hope for the best," Penzone told me when I interviewed him for this piece. "We're going to do our best to push back, and get back to where we're dictating the conversation as opposed to him."
Penzone also said he wants to see the media call out Arpaio on his unwillingness to debate Penzone, instead of giving the sheriff a free pass. Recently, Univision and the Latino advocacy group Mi Familia Vota extended invitations to both candidates for a debate. Arpaio snubbed the effort, and the event was restructured as a televised forum featuring just Penzone.
Is Penzone surprised that Arpaio is resorting to the same gutter tactics the sheriff used in 2012? Not at all, particularly given Arpaio's lagging poll numbers, with separate surveys over the past several months showing Arpaio trailing by three to nine points.
"He's just a bad man, and he doesn't care," said Penzone. "He's desperate because the last poll shows him down ... so he's going to do whatever he can to try and take a shot at me."
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Read Susan Hubbard's affidavit about 2003 altercation with ex-husband Paul Penzone:
Read letter from Penzone's lawyer to Arpaio campaign, threatening legal action: