Speaking before a crowd of seniors in Sun City Wednesday morning, Democratic sheriff's candidate Paul Penzone took aim at a new campaign ad for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, one in which Arpaio asserts that Tent City has been a money-saver for county coffers.
Currently in heavy rotation on local cable channels, the ad features Arpaio in uniform outside the 19 year-old gated encampment, claiming it helps keep "our communities safe" and prevents the release of prisoners onto the street.
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"And the best part?" says Joe, with obviously fake enthusiasm. "It saves taxpayers millions of dollars every year."
And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Lake Havasu I'd like to sell you.
Penzone, a former Phoenix Police Department sergeant-turned-politician, wasn't buying Joe's bull either.
"It was a temporary response to a permanent need," Penzone said of Tent City, which began housing prisoners in the early '90s. "But we're stuck with it for now because $100 million of taxpayer money that was designated to go toward enhancing the detention centers and staffing them properly was misspent."
Penzone was speaking of the $100 million Arpaio and his gang of thieves in the MCSO ripped off from two protected sources: a taxpayer-approved detention fund for the construction and maintenance of new jail facilities, and an inmate-services account funded by jail canteen sales and prisoners' collect phone calls.
Arpaio illegally used the cash to pay for pet projects such as rounding up dishwashers and landscapers, and for his vendettas against county politicians and judges. He didn't use the money to make his facilities run better, or to ensure they are safer for the prisoners and the detention officers that work those facilities.
"We know the numbers because they are staggering," Penzone explained to around 30 area residents assembled in Sun City's Talisman Hall. "Fifty million dollars because of [jail-related] lawsuits, lost under his tenure.
"So here he says, `I'm feeding them green baloney and putting them in pink underwear because I'm saving you money. I'm spending 34 cents a day, or whatever it is, [to feed the inmates.]'
"No you're not, Joe, you're spending multi-millions of dollars. [You might as well be putting them in] three-piece suits and [feeding them] filet mignon, because that's what you're costing us."Arpaio's latest lying campaign ad
Sun City is an Arpaio stronghold, patrolled by the MCSO, with a significant posse presence. Penzone's audience was, for the most part, made up of members of the Democratic minority there.
As a result, the candidate was well received. One lady asked if she could donate to him before leaving. Another stated that she would love to see him debate Arpaio.
"I'd like to see that, too," Penzone smiled as everyone laughed, knowing that Arpaio will never consent to a debate with a younger, more vigorous and better-spoken rival.
(Indeed, at a candidate's forum at Scottsdale Community College Thursday night, Arpaio was a no-show, though Penzone was front and center. As is usually the case, "America's toughest sheriff" is a coward when it comes to facing his opposition.)
The candidate blasted the sheriff for shrugging off tens of thousands of unserved warrants in Maricopa County. He also slammed Arpaio for the hundreds of uninvestigated sex crimes in El Mirage and beyond.
"When someone shows up in uniform, you get that sense of peace [that] they're here to protect me, they're here to make things right," Penzone said. "Can you imagine a woman or a child, when law enforcement shows up and then turns their back and walks away and that's the last you see them?
"How is it that a law enforcement leader in our community can stand before the public, and say, `If there were any victims, I apologize,' when you know damn well there were hundreds of victims?"
Afterwards, I spoke with some of those present, including June Heuser, who though despite being a Democrat, told me she had voted for Arpaio in the past because of his stance on illegal immigration. Now she's planning to vote for Penzone.
Why? Arpaio's descent into birther madness.
"I got ticked off at him for spending all this money on trying to prove that Obama was not born in Hawaii," Heuser said. "It's none of [Arpaio's] business. If it were true, it would have been discovered a long time ago."
That sentiment dovetails with the results of a poll commissioned by Citizens for a Better Arizona, showing that 65 percent of respondents disapproved of Arpaio's birther probe.
A large majority of Dems hated it -- 88 percent's worth. But many Republicans -- 44 percent -- were not happy with it either, revealing a weakness in Arpaio's line of defense that should be exploited by the Penzone campaign and by independent expenditure committees targeting Arpaio, such as the new bipartisan group Citizens for Professional Law Enforcement.
Penzone has been hustling on the campaign trail, doing interviews for the East Coast at 6 a.m., appearing at fundraisers and forums, and constantly working the phones, seeking donations. No one can fault him for lack of a work ethic.
Wednesday's foray into Sun City will not be the last. According to Penzone's campaign manager Jake Adams, his candidate will be returning to Sun City, as well as hitting other areas where Arpaio has traditionally received support, like the Sun Lakes community south of Chandler.
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In other words, the battle is joined in what may be this county's last chance ever to rid ourselves of Arpaio, with 20 days left before early voting begins and 46 days left till election day.
Note: Some Joe-critics have questioned Arpaio's wearing his uniform in the campaign ad above and in others, suggesting that it could be a violation of state law or of the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of government resources in political campaigning.
However, Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborn told me that the issue has come up in past elections and Joe's uniform-wearing does not violate state law.
Similarly, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations, there is an exception for elected sheriffs, who are allowed to wear their uniforms while campaigning.