Sheriff Joe Moseys Into Town
Arpaio’s stump speech raises howls of laughter, cries of protest and thousands of dollars for Bill Hunt’s campaign for Orange County sheriff

Signs declaring “We Are Humans,” “Brown Is Not a Crime” and “Wanted: For Terrorism Against Mexican and Central American Indigenous” greeted visitors to the Phoenix Club in Anaheim on Nov. 5. With drums pounding and chants chanting and Hitler comparisons flying, the predominantly Latino demonstrators—eyed closely by Anaheim police officers and Univision news reporters—were protesting the main attraction inside the German cultural center: “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Joe Arpaio.

Maricopa County, Arizona’s controversial lawman—who has drawn headlines, lawsuits and re-election for life for housing jail inmates in tents under an unrelenting sun, issuing them pink underwear, chaining women prisoners together, spending pennies for chow-line meals, arresting the Phoenix-based owners of OC Weekly and strictly enforcing immigration laws (to the chagrin of the federal government)—rolled into town for a fund-raising dinner for Bill Hunt, who aims to be the Joe Arpaio of Orange County.

Bill Hunt with Joe Arpaio: 
Wait, you're from WHAT paper?!
Beth Stirnaman
Bill Hunt with Joe Arpaio: Wait, you're from WHAT paper?!
Protesters in front of the Phoenix Club
Beth Stirnaman
Protesters in front of the Phoenix Club

Hunt, who will square off against current Sheriff Sandra Hutchens in the June 2010 election, was a lieutenant and San Clemente’s chief of police in the sheriff’s department he now wants to lead. But after accusing then-Sheriff Mike Carona of malfeasance while campaigning unsuccessfully for the office in 2006, Hunt was essentially forced off the force. With Carona now bound for prison (pending appeals), Hunt is being cast as the good guy in the white hat who stood up to corruption.

“It may have cost me my career in the short term, but I’m standing before you tonight, and the other guy is heading to jail,” Hunt, who chose retirement over demotion, boasted from a podium in front of a giant poster proclaiming, “The People’s Choice . . . Bill Hunt for Sheriff.”

The remainder of Hunt’s address to an adoring crowd estimated at 350 to 370 patriots (who lavished his campaign with a boost of around $40,000 with their $99 dinner checks and other contributions) was short on details on what exactly he would do differently than the incumbent sheriff, whom the Hunt campaign labels an “outsider” because the Orange County Board of Supervisors appointed Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department veteran Hutchens as Carona’s replacement in 2008. About all that could be deduced from Hunt’s remarks is he’s against corruption, really against undocumented immigrants and really for guns. He also trumpeted having bounced around several “challenging” Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) assignments during his 25-year law-enforcement career.

Likewise, Arpaio; former Graham County, Arizona, Sheriff Richard Mack; living historian Dana Parker; and the evening’s MC, Tim Whitacre (Hunt’s campaign manager, who, like other volunteers, wore a pink dress shirt under his suit in honor of Arpaio’s preferred inmate underwear color) failed to come up with compelling reasons why the challenger is more qualified than the incumbent, other than to reiterate that he stood up to Carona, a very bad man.

Not that the indoor monster-truck rally lacked entertainment to be lapped up by the crowd, peppered as it was with former military/current law enforcement and the people who love them. The hijinks began at the VIP reception before the main event, when a giddy woman with short white hair dressed in a cream-colored blazer and skirt cornered an expressionless Arpaio. It was none other than Barbara Coe, the hatemongering Huntington Beach mother of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR). Upon coming face-to-face with Arpaio, Coe lit up like Kim McAfee did when she first met Conrad Birdie.

There was little mention from the podium of the tragic mass killing that had occurred hours earlier at Fort Hood, Texas. Don Wagner, the South Orange County Community College District trustee hoping to graduate to the state Assembly seat occupied by U.S. Senate candidate Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), did ask for everyone to keep the soldiers in their prayers during his invocation. Arpaio briefly alluded to the carnage near the end of his routine also.

James Madison impersonator Parker spoke with an unusual Old South-meets-New England accent as he trumpeted the Founding Fathers’ “strict constitutionalist” views.

After Parker and before Hunt came Mack, whose claim to fame was overcoming a challenge by the Clinton White House to win a Supreme Court ruling that found parts of the Brady gun-control bill unconstitutional. That earned Mack a subsequent defeat at the polls, as his affront to the Clintons rallied opposition in Graham County.

But Mack claimed to be the ultimate victor, saying, “I sued the Clinton administration and lived to write about it” and that the Supreme Court ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, “proves California or Arizona or any other state in this union don’t have to participate in Obamacare.” Scalia never mentioned health care, but he did opine that states do not have to enforce federal regulatory programs. “Tell Arnold,” Mack advised the crowd.

He and all the previous speakers received polite applause, a couple of hoots and a standing ovation or three. But none electrified the crowd like Arpaio, who had people roaring with laughter and applauding thunderously like a seasoned headliner at the Improv. Of course, he put the assembled Minutemen over the top with comments such as “I spent 25 years in drug enforcement. I’m one of the people who knows what a border is. Most politicians wouldn’t know where to find it.”

It seems Arpaio’s problem with Hutchens is his perception that she blew him off. Among the many politicians he cited as having toured his incarceration tents is Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell, who was accompanied by an OCSD middle manager.

“Your sheriff did not come; a captain did,” a still-astounded Arpaio told the audience. “I told the captain, ‘Why are you here? Where is the sheriff?’ He said, ‘I dunno.’”

Had Hutchens made the trip and befriended “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” perhaps she could have prevented Arpaio’s star power from invigorating the Hunt campaign.

Then again, she can now capitalize on the dinner to sew up Latino support. Unless Hunt gets to them first. During one of his brief mentions of the candidate who brought him to Orange County, Arpaio looked for a reaction from Hunt, who’d briefly stepped out. “Where’s Bill?” he asked. “Is he trying to get votes outside? I hope he speaks Spanish.”

Indeed, the spectacle in front of the Phoenix Club served as the perfect foil for Arpaio’s standup set.

“I apologize for the protesters outside,” he said joyfully early into his act. “They go wherever I go. If you know a good Mexican restaurant, go and tell them where it is. I know in Phoenix, I can’t go to a Mexican restaurant. When I walk in, most of the workers run out the back door or spit in my food.”

He claimed most of those protesting also traveled from Maricopa County, where they hold the same signs, chant the same chants and spew the same Hitler comparisons outside his office.

“I could pay them to do it every day,” Arpaio said of the support those daily protests have generated for his re-election campaigns. “I had Al Sharpton come out.”

The mere mention of Sharpton elicited loud boos in Anaheim before Arpaio cut everyone off, explaining, “I raised a lot of money from that. I should have paid for a first-class ticket for him.”

Guess we know who Hunt is going to line up for his next fund-raiser.

mcoker@ocweekly.com

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