Sheriff Joe on Sheriff Joe

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on February 29, 2012

The biggest divide in Arizona south of the Grand Canyon may be the angry chasm between supporters and opponents of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Supporters are particularly enthusiastic about his enforcement of the state's law against illegal immigration. Opponents claim he is racist and anti-immigrant.

As a reporter for the Arizona Republic, I came to see Arpaio as a man in love with publicity and his self-propagated image as "America's toughest sheriff". As was once said about former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman, Arpaio never met a microphone he didn't like. And he never encountered a subject that he couldn't quickly convert to an opportunity to talk about himself.

Monday night's PBS News Hour showed a clip of Arpaio talking about the state's presidential primary contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. His assessment of Santorum was classic Sheriff Joe. "Well, I like a fighter. I mean, what do you think I am? I mean, I ran 20 years ago. Nobody knew me. And I keep fighting. But I do what I feel is right. He does, too."

This was Arpaio's assessment of Romney: "I was his campaign guy four years ago. He seems to have forgot my number."

On Univision's Al Punto show, Arpaio disputed host Jorge Ramos's contention that, to many Latinos, "you are the face of racism and discrimination."

"How do you know that?" Arpaio shot back. When Ramos said he has read many polls and talked with many undocumented immigrants, Arpaio responded, "I've got my own polls ... I'm going to continue to enforce the laws."

Topics: Arizona