Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce for Sheriff? Yes, It Could Get Worse than Joe Arpaio

There's been a whiff of brimstone in the air with the rumor that state Senator Russell Pearce, the most bigoted public servant in Arizona (and that's saying a lot), has been actively lobbying Maricopa County to become its replacement sheriff, should Arpaio run for governor, keel over, or be indicted and removed from office, whichever comes first.

Over at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which would appoint a replacement for Arpaio should he no longer be able to serve, spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said she knew of no such effort from Pearce.

The rumors have it that there's been a letter from Pearce to the BOS. Gerchick said there's no letter to her knowledge.

Adding a little fuel to the speculation was a report on Monday's CBS 5 newscast that Pearce would be delighted to have Joe's job should it ever become available.

"Would I consider it? Absolutely," Pearce told CBS 5 when asked. "I love those folks. I love law enforcement. Public safety is my number one issue, always has been. 

"I clearly have a love for law enforcement, and it would be a serious consideration if something happened there."

Actually, it's not news that Pearce craves the post of sheriff. When Arpaio first ran back in 1992, he vowed to serve only one term. Many assumed that his Chief Deputy Russell Pearce was his heir apparent.

That's right, Russell Pearce used to be Arpaio's David Hendershott, before Hendershott filled that role so amply. In fact, Pearce is usually credited with coming up with the idea of using surplus tents to create Tent City. 

Not that Arpaio likes to credit him for the, ahem, innovation. Perceived as a possible rival, Pearce was eventually eased out of the MCSO. And there was bad blood between the men for many years, according to several sources.

However, the two men have bonded over the immigration issue, though Arpaio's been a Johnny-come-lately by comparison to Pearce on the matter.

It may seem unlikely that the county Supes would give the nod to a right-wing extremist like Pearce should Arpaio ever fall down on the job. But it does present a frightening, worst-case scenario.

Because for all his faults and authoritarianism, Arpaio is a politician at heart, and an Archie Bunker-type bigot at best, while Pearce is the real deal, a true-believer in ethnic cleansing, willing to cast aside Constitutional protections to achieve his long-range legislative ends.

As sheriff, Pearce would be a nightmare, and his record of being chucked as MVD chief for corruption wouldn't bode well for his future job performance, either.

So for those who hope for Arpaio's downfall, be concerned, very concerned that Pearce lusts after Arpaio's power, and bides his time.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons