Michael Irish, a Republican candidate for Justice of the Peace in Maricopa County, used racist language in a recent text to describe Black athletes, Phoenix New Times has learned.
A former friend of Irish's, who declined to be named due to privacy concerns, shared screenshots of a text-message conversation with Irish from early September with New Times.
In the texts, he and Irish were discussing a potential poker night as well as the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the subsequent protests among professional sports players across the country.
"The idiot nigs and league support rapists," Irish wrote on September 2, apparently referencing the fact that Blake was charged with third-degree sexual assault and had a warrant out for his arrest prior to the shooting.
The former friend responded by cautioning Irish and referencing his Justice of the Peace candidacy: "Miiiiiiigjt wanna be careful on the pronouns there judge Irish?"
Neither Irish, a real estate and business attorney, nor his campaign has responded to repeated messages seeking comment since Friday. Sarah Pirie, Irish's campaign treasurer (according to a campaign finance report dated June 28), hung up when New Times attempted to contact her by phone. A follow-up text received no response. New Times also attempted to speak with Irish at his house, but no one was home.
Irish is on the November ballot as the Republican candidate for Justice of the Peace of the Moon Valley precinct in north Phoenix of Maricopa County's Justice Court system. Justices of the Peace handle low-level misdemeanor cases, like DUIs, shoplifting, violations of restraint orders, and bad checks.
He faces Democratic candidate Deborah Ann Begay in the November general election. Irish has also garnered an impressive array of endorsements from high-profile local Republicans, including former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Phoenix City Councilmember Sal DiCiccio, Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, and Jerry Sheridan, a current candidate for Maricopa County Sheriff and former deputy of Arpaio. In a video posted on Irish's campaign website, Arpaio calls him a "great guy."
Irish's troubling views on race have been apparent for a while now.
Over the summer, he commented on an Instagram post supporting Black Lives Matter protesters that it was "time to start putting these idiots in their place," according to an Arizona Mirror report.
Irish also reportedly blamed Black Americans for police violence and the subsequent backlash toward police after the high-profile killings of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Dion Johnson.
“Blacks cause a lot of their own inherent problems and when s— hits the fan they want to blame slavery or others for those problems,” he wrote in a direct message, according to the Mirror.
During his stint in the mid-2000s as a staff cartoonist at The Daily Wildcat — the student-run newspaper at the University of Arizona, where Irish completed his undergraduate degree — he authored a series of cartoons with content that resulted in him leaving the publication, according to Michael Schwartz, a former sports editor at the paper.
Brett Fera, the current director of Arizona Student Media at the university, confirmed that Irish worked at the paper between 2004 and the end of 2005. (He was eventually rehired briefly for four months in 2007.)
In one cartoon authored by Irish featuring a Mexican flag, a Tecate sign, a sign labeled "Mexico," and a penguin wearing a sombrero, Irish wrote, "Even the desert looks dirtier...is that possible?"
"He was a staff cartoonist," Schwartz said. "The penguins were his thing."
Update October 28: Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio has renounced his support of Irish in a Facebook post following publication of this article:
"I can no longer support Michael Irish as a candidate for Justice of the Peace," DiCiccio said. "I have my own disagreements with the NBA but there is simply no reason to use charged racist terminology. There is no place in our party for this kind of language. We can make our points without stooping to the level of those who judge people on the basis of skin color."
Soon after DiCiccio's comment, Republican candidate for Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer also pulled his support of Irish.
"Obviously a major no-no," Richer said on Twitter of Irish's tweets. "Disappointing. Sad. Inappropriate. Unequivocally inexcusable. Not good."