Arizona Pols in the Hot Seat

The past 24 hours have not been kind to Arizona leaders Gov. Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

It started with Brewer, whose opening statement in last night’s debate with gubernatorial contenders, including Attorney General Terry Goddard, was painful to watch. Whether it was stage fright or just the result of a really bad day is hard to know, but Brewer, known for her brash statements, found herself struggling for words and appeared ill prepared.

Normally, Brewer comes off as a strong person, although she is not that accessible. On a recent reporting trip to Arizona, I was told that Brewer declined to be interviewed for a story about how the state’s controversial immigration law was affecting business. And she has a reputation, among many I spoke with in Phoenix, for being media-shy—unless the message is very brief or she’s talking to Fox News. 

Nonetheless, Brewer has been leading in the polls. And she recovered later in the discussion. Moreover, she remains quite beloved in the state, and this little instance of human frailty will probably serve her well in the long run.

Arizona’s other leading tough talker, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is also out of his comfort zone, and this case—his ongoing dispute with the federal government—could be a lot more serious. He told reporters today that he just needed more time to comply with the feds, who are investigating allegations that his department discriminates against Hispanics. The Justice Department today said it was suing the sheriff for failing—for more than a year—to turn over records as part of that investigation.

This particular probe, by the way, is separate from another federal investigation into charges that Arpaio has abused his power by intimidating county workers and other local officials. When NEWSWEEK asked Arpaio to comment on allegations made (to this reporter) by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon that he was harassed by the sheriff's deputies, Arpaio's office said he wouldn’t dignify the claims with a response. His troubles today might be an indication that at some point he’s going to be forced to talk.


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