At Close Of Day, Sheriff Joe Will Not Go Gently

I was delighted this morning when I learned that Joe Arpaio, Arizona’s infamous race-baiting law man, announced his bid for a sixth term as Sheriff of Maricopa County. Considering Sheriff Joe’s recent setbacks—a Justice Department report finding the MCSO guilty of violating the constitutional rights of inmates, discriminatory policing practices and, in general, excessive douchiness; an ongoing criminal investigation into alleged abuses of power; and a shifting political climate in which another icon of the Republican’s extremist fringe, Russell Pearce, was recently ousted by voters—it would be easy for Sheriff Joe to simply close up shop, hand his badge to his successor and walk quietly into the sunset with a little dignity still intact.

Thankfully, that’s not how the movie of Sheriff Joe’s life will end.

And if you think for one second that Sheriff Joe doesn’t think his life story is destined for the silver screen, you just haven’t been paying attention. As a native of Arizona, I’ve been watching the self-proclaimed “toughest Sheriff in America” clown it up for the cameras for nearly 20 years. In fact, while Sheriff Joe has done little to improve law enforcement practices during his tenure, he has been wildly successful at implementing practices and policies that garner tons of national press, regardless of how impotent those policies and practices have actually been. He’s built a tent city, made inmates wear pink underwear, brought back chain gangs, and enlisted NASCAR fans into a Sheriff’s Posse to assist local police in various harassment sweeps.

And then there’s the tough talk.

Sheriff Joe doesn’t seem capable of having a conversation without, in one fashion or another, pointing at himself and loudly declaring his machoness. Seriously, his press conferences feel less like addresses from a dignified public official and more like post-bout monologues at Wrestlemania. He’s so self-aggrandizing that whenever I see him on TV, I keep expecting him to rip open his shirt, flex his guns and snap into a Slim Jim.

In fact, if Joe could come up with a proper finishing move, he could have quite a future on Monday Night Raw. (Though Joe, should you happen to read this, when developing a finishing move I’d encourage something a tad less lethal than the move your boys put on Marty Atencio.)

Regardless of what he’s talking about—his crime sweeps, the Cardinals’ run to the Super Bowl, the weather—Sheriff Joe always sounds pissed off and ready to reach out and slap whoever he’s talking to. And the press has eaten it up for nearly 20 years.

Like him or hate him, you have to admit that Sheriff Joe is a larger-than-life caricature, a living, breathing Yosemite Sam who’s rooted and tooted his way into the American pop landscape. And since I’ve been watching the Sheriff Joe show for 20 painful years, I expect—and believe I’m entitled to—a good and proper finale. None of the unresolved “what-the-fucks” The Sopranos left us with when it simply faded to black. And I’ll be damned if he tries to pull some “it was all just a dream” nonsense. No, after what the people of Arizona have had to endure the past two decades, Sheriff Joe owes us an ending on the scale of The Sixth Sense or, dare I say, The Lord of the Rings—though hopefully without all the overly eroticized Hobbit hugs.

So far, it looks like Joe intends on delivering. His announcement that he’ll run for a sixth term is a clear statement that he’s not about to back down just yet; that means we might actually get an ending befitting the man’s oafish legacy. Now, to be clear, when I say ending I am not referring to the election itself.

Sure, November’s election could well spell the end of Arpaio’s political career. While he has won his previous elections with comfortable margins, a lot has changed since he beat Dan Saban in 2008 with 55% of the popular vote (a 13% margin of victory). Arpaio has taken a lot of hits to his image the past four years, and the controversies seem to keep piling up. Plus, his traditional rivals—the Democrats—discovered in last year’s recall of Russell Pearce how to beat polarizing figures like Arpaio: i.e., in Arizona, it takes a Republican to beat a Republican.

That’s a sad indictment of Democratic politicians in the state, who along with failing to sell democratic ideas to voters have also done a fairly piss poor job of selling voters on the Republican values Democrats adopt while campaigning. Still, in last year’s recall Democrats finally accepted the fact that, no matter how obnoxious, racist or unethical the Republican candidate is, he or she is still oddly more appealing to the Arizona voter than a Democrat. So running a Republican—or a Republican like Mike Stauffer who is running as an Independent to avoid a primary—against Arpaio, while ensuring no Democrats get in the race, might well be enough to oust the toughest sheriff in America.

Though I wouldn’t put anything past the Arizona voter. As big a dick as Arpaio is, it’s the Arizona voter that’s been the Viagra allowing good old Joe to shove his snake eye up our collective asses each and every day for the last 19 years. Plus, with a potential second term for President Obama scaring the racists out of their sheets and into the voting booths en masse this November, playing the bigot might work better for Arpaio in 2012 than it did for Pearce in 2011.

Win or lose, November’s election won’t be the end of Arpaio. Hell, if he does lose he’ll likely just show up on the next season of Celebrity Apprentice or Dancing with the Stars—where he’ll yell at us all from a bigger stage than he’s ever been on.

That said, I won’t lie and say I’m not looking forward to watching the campaign unfold. At nearly 80 years old, Arpaio has shown some real signs of aging as of late. And, though I’m not sure what it says about me as a human, I love the idea of Sheriff Joe wrestling to spit out some tough-as-nails rhetoric while simultaneously battling a mini-stroke and/or dumping a deuce into the pair of pink Depends he’s undoubtedly wearing these days. Besides, there’s always a chance that while campaigning Sheriff Joe and that dude from the karate movies (no, not Chuck Norris, but the fat one with the pony tail) will roll through you neighborhood in a tank. And that’s just fun for the whole family.

But it won’t be a proper ending to the movie about Sheriff Joe’s life. No, since he’s been sheriff, Apaio has played to the lore of the wild west, modeling himself as a postmodern version of the gunslinger. Where better, after all, to craft such a persona than in Arizona, home of the OK Corral and Tombstone? For though the wild west may well be dead, its mystique is a ghost more present in the limestone flats between Phoenix and Nogales than anywhere else in the nation. And from the mythos of the wild west Arpaio has drawn the image of himself: the gun-toting anachronism, both the villain and the saint, the modern day Wyatt Earp whose legend will live well beyond the man.

No, there’s only one way for that movie to end: in a blaze of bullets and bravado.

So good luck in your reelection bid, Joe, but do me one favor. When the Feds finally determine the timing matches their political ends and they roll the black vans up to the Sheriff’s Office to slap the handcuffs on you, don’t let them take you alive. Wyatt Earp wouldn’t. Neither would Billy the Kid, Jesse James or Doc Holliday. Nope, all those men would rally the troops, hunker down in some cabin, and grab their guns.

And Joe, you have a tank and hundreds of idiotic posse members who are likely dumb enough to stick with you until the end. And whether that end comes at the hands of a Federal agent or from a Waco-like eruption of flames, it won’t matter. Hell, I’ll even accept you pulling a warden from Shawshank Redemption and painting the MCSO’s walls with your last two cents.

That may seem harsh, but it’s the only proper way for the movie of Sheriff Joe’s life to end—I mean, if he’s going to stay true to his character, he’s essentially painted himself into a corner. Anything less than a fiery shoot out with the federal government, and he can pretty much forget about the Sheriff Joe Show making it to the big screens. Retiring and living out his days in anonymity or getting thrown in jail for a few years before quietly dying in his sleep? Come on, that would be a shitty ass ending, even for a made-for-television movie.

That’s why I’ve got my fingers crossed for an ending that would make Wyatt Earp proud. Only time will tell whether Arpaio truly is the “toughest sheriff in America,” or if he is simply a man, a public servant who read far too much into his press clippings, abused his authority, and eventually will be humbled by the consequences of his actions.

The man will get his day in court or perhaps a quiet retirement, but for the legend there is only one way to go. And based on today’s announcement, it appears Sheriff Joe is—for the time being—still vying for the perfect Hollywood ending.

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