Trump Triumphs, But Arpaio and Babeu Take Beatings

At the Phoenix Hyatt Regency, amid the euphoria over Donald Trump's victory Tuesday night, those who gathered for the state GOP's watch party overlooked key losses to the Democrats as if they were mere trifles, rather than the demise of some major Arizona power players.

Perhaps this was due to the unexpectedness of Trump's titanic electoral college win, even for his most passionate defenders and fans. The pollsters and the political elite had assured us that Trump would be history come November 8. Instead, Hurricane Donald devastated the Democrats nationally, taking even Pennsylvania, which many pundits asserted, ad nauseam, was in the bag for Hillary Clinton.

Congressman David Schweikert, the Sixth Congressional District Republican whose natty attire and impeccable grooming could qualify him to be a game-show host or high-end funeral director, summed things up nicely as he took the podium at one point and offered a little humor at the expense of the so-called experts.

"If you have friends who are pollsters, be kind to then," he cracked. "They'll be looking for new jobs tomorrow."

Schweikert didn't mention that there were a few GOP corpses that would be stinking up Arizona's political house once everyone had slept off the cocktails and the victory glow: those of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, and, if the numbers hold, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell (who may yet rise Lazarus-like from what should be a well-deserved defeat).
Arizona didn't go blue, even if Trump's margin of victory here — about 4 percent at last count — was less than half of the margin by which Mitt Romney won the state in 2012. Hillary never had a chance in the Grand Canyon State, despite the hype from local and out-of-state media to the contrary.

But the fall of two big-name sheriffs who put all of their chips on hatin' Hispanics and let it ride, should help local Dems with their hangovers. Sheriff Paul Babeu, the slick, smiling fascist from Pinal County, was hobbled from the start in his congressional bid by his own icky past, his lies about his time overseeing the abusive DeSisto School for troubled youth in Massachusetts, and by a 1999 videotape in which he described the mistreatment of minors at the school.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poured millions into Arizona's First Congressional District, where Babeu was seeking the seat vacated by Ann Kirkpatrick — whose attempt to defeat U.S. Senator John McCain was doomed from the start. But the DCCC knew they had a loser on their hands in Babeu, so they re-aired segments of that damning 1999 video in attack ads, drumming it into the skulls of the electorate, while the National Republican Congressional Committee let Babeu twist in the wind. End result: Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democrat Tom O'Halleran clobbered Babeu by nearly nine points, effectively ending the sheriff's political career in Arizona for the foreseeable future.

No longer will Babeu appear all bright and shiny in his uniform on Fox News programs, railing against illegal immigrants and pretending that Pinal County is on the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, at this very moment, he likely is polishing his résumé in hopes of scoring a gig in the Trump regime. 
Maybe the president-elect has something for the biggest loser of the night, Sheriff Joe, who stumped for Trump early and often, hoping to ride his coattails to a seventh term in office.

Instead, Democrat Paul Penzone crushed Arpaio's hopes by more than 10 points and more than 114,000 votes so far.

Liberal billionaire George Soros dropped a few million simoleons on the race in order to topple Joe, and Latino groups organized mightily against him, as they have in the past. More than one poll showed Arpaio way down.

But we're talking about Joe Arpaio here. Prior to this morning, he bestrode the Republican political world like a colossus, raising megamillions via a rabid fan base of small donors nationwide. What finally undid him — more than Soros, more than Penzone, a worthy opponent who put everything on the line for a second time to battle the GOP behemoth — was Arpaio's own arrogance: his contempt toward the federal court in the racial profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio and the civil and criminal charges that followed, not to mention the still-inflating cost of the case, for which the county has paid more than $50 million to date, all of it from the general fund or from Arpaio's budget.
Because the plaintiffs in Melendres sought remedies, not damages, this disaster isn't covered by the county's self-insurance policy. The money comes directly from taxpayers' pockets (including a property-tax increase). Yet, Arpaio was unrepentant and continued his defiance of the court. When the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors rejected his recent bid to hire a law firm to try to boot Judge G. Murray Snow from the case, Arpaio ignored them, taking $1 million from his budget to pay for the longshot legal maneuver.

Such antics further alienated Republicans who otherwise would have supported him. Also, East Valley Mormons were angered by what they saw as Arpaio's vendettas against LDS politicians like U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and former county supervisor Don Stapley (not to mention Snow, also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).

But bear in mind that because of the registration advantage Republicans hold in Maricopa County, Arpaio could only lose if Penzone offered a sufficiently palatable alternative, thereby peeling off a hunk of Republican votes.

In fact, last night, Republicans at the Hyatt seemed blasé about Arpaio's fall. Arizona GOP chair Robert Graham didn't shrug when New Times asked about Arpaio's defeat, but neither did he seem distraught. How could he be, given Trump's big win?

"It's a shame," Graham tsk-ed. "I think Arpaio has been a great sheriff. He's protected us in a number of different ways. We've got a personal friendship with him. And it's sad to see such an icon ... kind of move on."

Graham cited the Democrats' efforts to get out the Latino vote in Maricopa County, which he thinks contributed big-time to Penzone's win.

(Note: Arpaio was a no-show at the Hyatt, but the Penzone camp tells New Times that the sheriff called Penzone a little after 10 p.m. last night to concede.)

Finally, there's Helen Purcell, Maricopa County's longtime Republican recorder, who bore the brunt of criticism over this year's election snafus, particularly the debacle of the presidential preference election, with its interminable lines and ticked-off voters.

As of this writing, Democrat Adrian Fontes holds a slim, 9,000-vote lead over Purcell, who barely survived her primary, in which she was opposed by a political nobody. There are ballots yet to be counted, but if Fontes pulls it out, it could be the beginning of a stellar career for a Latino politician in what historically has been a deeply red county with bigotry to spare.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons