Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio Enters Arizona Senate Race for Flake’s Seat

Joe Arpaio / Getty Images

Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff in Maricopa County, Ariz., has announced that he is running for the Senate seat that Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) is leaving when he retires at the end of the year.

The 85-year-old Arpaio enters the race for the Republican nomination alongside Rep. Martha McSally (Ariz.), who is expected to announce her run in the coming days, and former Arizona State Sen. Kelli Ward, who unsuccessfully attempted to challenge Sen. John McCain in 2016, the Washington Examiner reports.

Arpaio, dubbed "America's toughest sheriff" as a result of his proactive enforcement of illegal immigration, drew media attention after he was pardoned by President Donald Trump last year. He had been found guilty of criminal contempt in August 2017 for disregarding a court order in a racial profiling case. In response, a federal judge in Phoenix presiding over the criminal case fully accepted President Trump's pardon in October and cleared Arpaio of his criminal record.

Known for his hawkish immigrations policies, Arpaio told the Examiner in a phone interview that he expects sharp criticism during his bid for Senate, but vows to hold true to his approach. The candidate "dismissed" Republican insiders’ anxiety that his poor reputation with nonwhite voters might put the seat in play for Democrats in the midterm, and said he plans to alight himself with Trump. Should he win the nomination and defeat likely Democratic Nominee Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, he would support the president "unflinchingly."

"I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump," Arpaio said. "I’m going to have to work hard; you don’t take anything for granted. But I would not be doing this if I thought that I could not win. I’m not here to get my name in the paper, I get that every day, anyway."

The former sheriff reiterated his commitment to Trump's agenda in a Twitter post where he shared the Examiner piece and announced his decision to run.

Arpaio gained a national image for his opposition to illegal immigrants, being seen as a law and order cop. Trump praised Arpaio's work as sheriff, saying he protected the public "from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration." In defending his decision to pardon the former sheriff, Trump also referred to him as a "patriot."

Arpaio further explained his stance on immigration during his interview with the Examiner.

"My mother and father came here from Italy, legally of course. I have a soft spot for the Mexican community having lived there," Arpaio said. "I’m not going to get into my personal life, but I will say we have four grandkids and some have a different ethnic and racial background. I don’t say that. I don’t use my grandkids. So, I have a soft spot, but still, I’m going to do my job. You have to do it."

"Being a U.S. senator is a little different than being the sheriff, because you can do a lot of things in the U.S. Senate, and I have many plans, believe me. It’s tough. It’s a tough decision. But, if you’re going to come across that border, you should be arrested and get the consequences of it," Arpaio added.

The Examiner noted Arpaio is "virtually guaranteed" to rev up a Republican base that pushed Flake into retirement because of his feud with the president. The new candidate said he "relishes" the fight whether it be from the left or from supporters of McSally on the right, noting he has a "love-hate" relationship with both Flake and McCain who have both been critical of the president and opposed the pardon.

"I am outspoken. I’m looking forward to it. Let them come. They’ll have their political firing squads and bring tons of money here because they don’t want to lose," Arpaio said. "I just want to do everything I can to support our president."

Arpaio said he has not spoken with Trump about the Senate bid, and did not ask for the pardon. He does, however, expect Democrats to make an issue of the pardon. He argues, nonetheless, that the conviction was part of a political witch hunt from U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and the Obama Administration.

"This started under Obama and Holder 60 days after they took office and it took them all these years to get me on a contempt of court charge, a misdemeanor. You get the same time for barking dogs," Arpaio said, unapologetic of the law enforcement process he followed as sheriff.

Arpaio added he could get on board with some version of a process to help illegal immigrants previously covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration amnesty program, offering his own thoughts on how Congress should handle the process.

"I have a far-out plan, which may look stupid," he said. "When they come to your attention that they’re here illegally, these young people, deport them back to Mexico — or whatever — and then try to put them on a fast track to come back into the United States legally with special permits. What’s wrong with that? They’d say they don’t know where their home country is, so let them go there and spend six months, because it might take that long to do paperwork to get them here legally and let them see their home country and see what it's really like. They ought to be proud where they came from. I’m proud being an Italian American. I’m proud of Italy. I’m proud my father, my mother came over, proud of it. So, you could kill two birds with one stone."

"That would be no amnesty; everybody would be happy, you deport them and then let them come back with all their education here. I’m sure they could find a temporary job or help the foreign countries and build up relations and come back. That’s just a big picture that I have," he added. "People may say I’m crazy. What am I crazy about? It just makes sense."