Heir Apparent

I was ecstatic when the press release arrived on my desk two weeks ago. It meant I didn't have to run for sheriff of Maricopa County.

Instead, the release said, W. Steven Martin would be doing this desperately needed civic duty for me.

Martin, the longtime king of country music broadcasting in Arizona and director of countless police and Sheriff's Posse memorial events and charity drives, announced last Tuesday he'd be challenging Joe Arpaio in next September's Republican primary for sheriff.

A legitimate campaign to end the Joe Show had finally arrived.

Arpaio, the Uday Hussein Mini-Me who gleefully maims jail inmates, misspends millions of taxpayer dollars and persecutes those who dare to cross him, has finally met his match in W. Steven Martin.

In an interview last week, the statuesque, silver-tongued Martin told me he did not want to dwell on the misdeeds of his opponent.

I don't like "going negative" either, I told him.

Instead, it would be better to dwell on why W. Steven Martin should be and will be the next leader of the nation's fourth largest sheriff's office.

First and foremost, Martin has the credentials to be sheriff.

Yeah, sure, he's a DJ. But in his 40 years in radio booths in Phoenix, he has shown a remarkable commitment to organizing massive charity drives for the Valley's underprivileged children. His most recognized event, the "WSM Police Toy Drive," has delivered more than one million toys to kids at Christmastime.

Martin, or, as his friends and fans annoyingly call him, "W," also runs the "WSM Police Memorials" program to erect memorials for fallen officers, as well as the "Toys on Patrol" program, which puts teddy bears and other toys in police cars and fire stations for kids enduring traumatic situations.

These programs have kept Martin in constant communication with the Valley's police officers and, thus, in tune with the issues critical to law enforcement in the state. One of those issues, of course, is the embarrassment of having a blithering idiot as the sheriff of Maricopa County for the last 11 years.

Martin is surprisingly knowledgeable about the inner workings of the sheriff's office and its programs. He promises to cut the huge number of command staff positions in the office and promises to hire only top administrators with 15 or more years of experience in the field they will oversee. He also promises to get rid of several of Arpaio's gimmick programs, including the .50 caliber machine gun, the sheriff's tank and the rotting green bologna of which Arpaio is so proud.

"There's no question that there's a feeling among officers that something has to change in the sheriff's office," Martin told me.

"I'm not soft on crime by any means," he says. "You do the crime, I'm happy to lock you up. But the sheriff's job is to provide incarceration, not humiliation. My first priority will be the safety of my deputies and detention officers, but I also feel it's my duty to provide a humane environment for the inmates. You've got to remember, many of those people haven't even been convicted yet. It's just not right to take joy in humiliating these people."

What Martin's programs make clear, too, is that he is probably the one guy in the Valley who can self-promote as well as Arpaio. The difference: Martin's gimmicks have changed the Valley for the better, Arpaio's have changed it for the worse.

Martin's self-marketing savvy already is apparent in one of his early campaign slogans. "If you don't know who to vote for, just ask an officer," he tells voters.

Martin is coy about this device. "It just means that if you haven't followed law enforcement issues closely, you might want to talk to somebody involved with law enforcement."

What it actually means is that Martin already knows the answer you'll receive. Rank-and-file police officers, deputies and detention officers are generally disgusted by the mess Arpaio has made of the sheriff's office.

"The reaction from the deputies and detention officers I've talked to about Martin running has been overwhelmingly positive," says Chris Gerberry, former president and now secretary treasurer of the Maricopa County Deputies Association, a union for county law enforcement officers. "He's a good man and he knows his stuff and he's got all the tools it would take to win this race. His announcement was taken as very good news for law enforcement in the county."

What is particularly exciting about Martin's candidacy is the implicit message it sends about how the state's Republican leaders feel about Arpaio.

They are sick of him. And they are finally willing to get rid of him.

The last straw for many Republicans was Arpaio's support last year of Democrat Janet Napolitano for governor over Republican Matt Salmon. Napolitano and Arpaio have long been pals and Arpaio owed Napolitano a favor for her refusal as both U.S. Attorney and state Attorney General to properly investigate well-documented allegations against Arpaio of inmate abuse and financial impropriety.

Salmon is a close friend of Martin and is now serving as his campaign manager.

Martin denied Salmon is trying to settle the score with Arpaio.

"Matt has been a good friend for a long time," Martin says. "He said he would support me in whatever I did long before this issue about Arpaio supporting Napolitano. That has nothing to do with it."

Salmon also denied he was out to get Arpaio. Salmon says he simply believes Martin would make a better sheriff than Arpaio.

I personally don't care why Salmon is helping out. I'm just happy he is. He brings smarts, heavyweight Republican viability and a fat Rolodex of big-dollar donors to Martin's campaign. And his presence is both an implicit and explicit reminder to Republican voters that Arpaio is now considered a rabid dog by everyone except Janet Napolitano.

Martin now has 16 months to build the support he needs to unseat Arpaio in the primary. He's left the radio booth and plans to commit himself full time to his campaign.

He'll be spending much of his time walking door-to-door in the Valley's retirement communities, the wellspring of much of Arpaio's political power. The race for Maricopa County sheriff will be won or lost where it has always been won or lost: among the Valley's conservative senior voters.

Later, a well-planned and well-financed media campaign will be unleashed on all Valley voters.

And my guess is that by next September, every Republican voter in the county will be well aware of what New Times has been reporting for years:

That Joe Arpaio is a menace to society.

And that it's time for a new sheriff of Maricopa County.

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Robert Nelson