As Recall Looms, Arizona Republicans Pass Bill To Make It Harder To Remove Anti-Immigrant Sheriff

Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio may be the most despicable law enforcement officer in the country. A Justice Department legal complaint against his office alleges widespread constitutional violations and mistreatment of Latinos, including an alleged assault against a pregnant Latina woman, widespread racial profiling and use of racial slurs, and incidents where “female Latina [limited English proficiency] prisoners have been forced to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation because of [the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s] failure to ensure that detention officers provide language assistance in such circumstances.”

He also may not be sheriff much longer, as an effort to recall Arpaio already collected 120,000 of the 335,000 signatures needed to force a recall election.

A bill that passed the GOP-controlled Arizona House of Representatives could make Arpaio very difficult to defeat, however. Currently, a recalled official in Arizona faces a single election that could include challengers from their own party. The GOP bill would change this process so that the parties would choose their candidates in a primary election, and then Arpaio would likely face the winner of the Democratic primary in the general election.

The reason why this change matters is because Maricopa County is very Republican — Romney won the county by nearly 12 points — so it would be difficult for a Democrat to defeat Arpaio in a one-on-one race. At the same time, Maricopa’s Democratic voters could potentially join with a minority of the county’s Republicans in order to elect a Republican challenger to Arpaio. Indeed, this is exactly what happened when Democrats joined with some Republicans to remove anti-immigrant Senate President Russell Pearce (R) and replace him with Republican challenger Jerry Lewis in a 2011 recall election.

In other words, it may be the case that a majority of Maricopa’s voters want to remove Arpaio, and thus he could lose a recall election under the current rules. Under the GOP House’s bill, however, Arpaio would likely have a clear shot to survive the recall election so long as a majority of the county’s Republicans vote for him in the primary election.