Feathered Bastard

Et tu, Dennis? Ex-Senator Dennis DeConcini Endorses and Does Robocalls for Sheriff Joe.

Former Senator Dennis DeConcini: Democrat, Obama supporter, and fan of Joe Arpaio.

He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for Barack Obama, and supports Democrat Tim Nelson in his run against Republican County Attorney Andrew Thomas. So why are voters receiving robocalls from former Democratic U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini backing Sheriff Joe Arpaio (a Republican) over ex-Buckeye police chief Dan Saban, who's running as a Democrat?

Because the former three-term Senator from Arizona has indeed endorsed Arpaio, despite DeConcini's confession that he doesn't know much about Arpaio's recent history in office. He mostly remembers working with him when DeConcini was Pima County Attorney, and Arpaio was the DEA agent in charge of the state.

"I've known him for 25 years," explained DeConcini via phone from LaJolla, California, where he has a home (he has another in Tucson). "I worked with him for years on drug enforcement...So I've known him for a long time, and, you know he's a friend, and a very professional cop."

"Professional cop"? Are we talking about the same sheriff?

"Well, that's what he is," insisted DeConcini, known in his past for being a conservative Dem. "He's been a cop all his life. He was the DEA agent in charge of Arizona...and he did a helluva job. Now, I understand he's controversial. Oh, don't get me wrong."

DeConcini has not only recorded a robocall on Arpaio's behalf, he's also written a letter to Republicans and Independents, telling them why he supports Joe. DeConcini excused his crossover endorsement by stating that he's never been a partisan Democrat. In fact, his recent political memoir is titled, Senator Dennis DeConcini: From the Center of the Aisle, and in it, he revealed that he voted for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter back in 1980. He conceded that he doesn't support Arpaio's immigration policies, but otherwise described our aged lawman as "a competent and capable law enforcement official."

The former Senator also mentioned that Arpaio had helped him in past elections, and that in politics, "You don't forget people who are with you."

Of course, there is one other possible reason DeConcini's jumping the Dems' ship on Arpaio. There's no love lost between Arpaio and McCain, especially considering how Arpaio disses Arizona's senior senator in his latest, prevarication-friendly tome Joe's Law. For his part, DeConcini despises McCain because of the way McCain stabbed him in the back over the Keating 5 affair in the '80s. McCain took more moolah than DeConcini from S&L kingpin Charlie Keating back then, yet McCain tried to come out of the scandal smelling like Channel No. 5. DeConcini's book, written with the assistance of ASU history prof Jack August, portrays McCain as a sneaky little backstabber.

So, since McCain loathes Arpaio, DeConcini embraces ol' Joe. Similarly, this enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend policy might explain why DeConcini, a conservative, is stumping for McCain's tres liberal opponent Obama.

The troubling part is, DeConcini, 71, seems not to have been paying very close attention to his home state of late, much less Maricopa County. He had not heard of the recent, savage beating death of inmate Robert Cotton by a member of the Aryan Brotherhood in Joe's jails, the videotape of which has been aired repeatedly on local and national TV. Nor did he know that the national accreditation of Joe's jails had been yanked. To be fair, DeConcini said he's been out of the country for the last three weeks, vacationing in Italy.

DeConcini recalled reading something about the massive Hart v. Arpaio jails lawsuit going before a federal judge. But he didn't know that the Sheriff's Office recently had been ordered by that same federal judge to make significant improvements to the jails because conditions there were deemed unconstitutional. And DeConcini seemed surprised when told that Arpaio's jail-abuse lawsuit payouts had topped $43 million -- way more than the four largest jurisdictions in the nation combined (Maricopa County is the fifth-largest). After being given all this information, DeConcini seemed to backtrack a bit, but not enough to withdraw his endorsement.

"When you say, `Do you have any doubts?,' I always have doubts when there's alleged abuse by law enforcement," said DeConcini, noting that he had tried deputy sheriffs when he was the Pima County prosecutor. "The only thing you can do when you're in that position is have an impartial investigation."

I pointed out to DeConcini that impartial investigations are tough to come by in Maricopa County when Sheriff Arpaio and County Attorney Thomas are such staunch allies. DeConcini offered that he was endorsing Nelson over Thomas in that race.

"I'm supporting Ben Nelson [sic]," said DeConcini, flubbing Nelson's first name. "Matter of fact, Nelson called me and asked me if I'd endorse him in a letter to the same people [as the Arpaio letter]. I said sure."

But what did he have to say to those who find more than a little cognitive dissonance in a Democrat who stumps for Obama and endorses Arpaio?

"I tell them, lookit," replied the ex-Senator. "My knowledge is based on what I know and the experience of Joe Arpaio. Not anything current or any of his present policies."

On a personal note, I mentioned that his endorsement rankles a bit because Arpaio's thugs arrested my bosses in the middle of the night last year. (For more on that, see Michael Lacey's column this week "New Times Endorses Dan Saban and Tim Nelson.")

"That's true," DeConcini conceded. "And I think that was thrown out, wasn't it?"

Sure, Senator, but only after a massive, nationwide outcry over the jailing of two members of the Fourth Estate for exercising their First Amendment rights as writers, editors and publishers.

"Those are things you can't disregard," admitted DeConcini. "I don't know what Arpaio's motives were, but I suspect they were to get the publicity in order to get reelected. I don't support those kinds of actions. But I'm not his counselor. I'm not his campaign manager."

DeConcini continued: "I didn't contribute money to his campaign. I would have had he asked me to. I was asked if I would endorse him. I said yes based on my past experience with him. Not my present experience because I don't have any."

In reality, it probably doesn't impact DeConcini one iota whether or not Arpaio wins reelection. After all, the guy comes from a prominent, wealthy family, splits his time between LaJolla and Tucson, and gets to check out Italy for a month at a shot. However, speaking for those of us who live under Joe's increasingly tyrannical thumb -- those of us who don't like it, that is -- it might have been nice if DeConcini had been clued in to more current events than 25 years ago. After all, anyone can become a bastard in 25 years time.