GUADALUPE, Ariz. – Before dropping her son off at preschool, Carol Alvarez, 43, hurried to a polling place near Guadalupe Town Hall so she could vote against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio, who at 80 is running for his sixth term, has attracted national media attention to this essentially local election. The sheriff’s race here has sparked a get-out-the-vote effort against Arpaio among Latinos, in the face of a campaign that has raised $8 million to keep the 80-year-old lawman in office--mostly from out-of-state funds.
The sheriff is known nationally for his tough stance on illegal immigration, which has been emulated by other political figures across the country. Yet, for Alvarez, this is not a national issue.
Hispanics Don’t Feel Safe
It’s about everyday life in her community. Feeling safe and being able to call the police when necessary as a Hispanic is not easy, she said, because the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is the only law enforcement for her town of 5,600 residents.
“If you live here, you know how they treat people,” said Alvarez.
Alvarez explained that many residents of Guadalupe are afraid of contacting the police to report a crime because they think sheriff deputies are constantly targeting them based on the color of their skin.
They aren’t alone in this claim. Arpaio’s agency is currently facing two lawsuits over allegations of racial profiling and discrimination, one of them filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Located between the cities of Phoenix and Tempe, Guadalupe has a majority population of Mexican and Yaqui (members of an indigenous tribe from Northern Mexico). Both communities have historical ties, and there’s a lot of intermarriage between their families.
Alvarez is married to a Yaqui and said her husband has experienced the Arpaio’s approach to justice firsthand. He recalled being pulled over for a minor traffic infraction by deputies who held him at gunpoint.
Today residents of this small town are working to get the Latino vote out in order to oust the controversial sheriff.
Gabriel Alvarez, 66, (not related to Carol) is a former mayor of Guadalupe. He said he is hopeful that the voter drive to register new voters in this election under the motto of Adios Arpaio -- the youth movement has registered more than 35,000 new Latinos in the county -- will successfully oust Arpaio.
In Tuesday’s election, Arpaio is running against Democrat Paul Penzone and independent Michael Stauffer. In some polls Penzone was five percentage points behind Arpaio.
“It will be a big change,” says the former mayor, if voters are able to oust the sheriff.
Some Fear Retaliation
But not everyone in town is as outspoken about the sheriff’s race.
“Some people are afraid to make it public and that his deputies will retaliate,” said Andrew Sanchez. A member of the Guadalupe town council, he said that sheriff’s deputies have also harassed some of his family members during traffic stops and they have joined in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups. The suit alleges that Arpaio’s office engaged in racial profiling, and a federal judge is delivering on it after the trial ended last August.
Sanchez said some who opposed Arpaio in the 2008 election experienced retaliation. That year, most of the town supported the Democratic challenger, Dan Saban. In that election, Arpaio won with 55 percent of county vote.
For more than a decade, the tiny one-square-mile town has had a $1 million per year contract with the country to have the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office serve as its police force.
Guadalupe’s relationship with the sheriff’s office has never been perfect. But it reached a tipping point in April 2008, when sheriff’s deputies flooded the town as part of a “crime suppression sweep” aimed at undocumented immigrants.
“It changed back when he [Arpaio] started arresting people for having a bicycle light broken,” Carol Alvarez said. “It is embarrassing that he’s wasting so much money in lawsuits.”
When Rebecca Jimenez was mayor of Guadalupe, she made headlines by confronting Arpaio in front of TV cameras. She handed him a press statement urging him not to come back to her town. In response, the sheriff gave her a 90-day notice that he would cancel their contract to provide police protection unless they allowed for his sweeps.
The contract was never canceled. A new mayor was elected, who agreed to the sheriff’s terms.
Recently, a deputy’s fatal shooting of 19-year-old Joel Smith has stirred tensions between the townspeople and the sheriff’s office. The case is currently under investigation. Sanchez said he is waiting to get an answer from the sheriff’s office as to whether there was any "foul play" on the part of the officer involved.
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