The Goldwater Institute, an Arizona public policy research organization whose mission is devoted to reducing the size, scope, and cost of government, now has Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s job on its agenda. The popular personality—“America’s Toughest Sheriff” (as he likes to be called)—is known nationwide for his tough and innovative policies that deter illegal immigration.
The September 2009 issue of Phoenix magazine has a feature entitled “Goldwater’s Group Goes After Arpaio.” The glossy lifestyle publication opines: “Something’s amiss when even the most conservative think tank in Arizona is calling on Sheriff Joe to get his act together.”
The Goldwater Institute recently issued a report saying Sheriff Arpaio’s department “has diverted resources away from basic law-enforcement functions to highly publicized immigration sweeps, which are ineffective in policing illegal immigration.” The report goes on to claim that the Maricopa Sheriff’s department’s “effectiveness has been compromised for the past several years by misplaced priorities.”
The Sheriff responded to the criticism by stating: “I never had any trouble in 14 years with the Goldwater Institute, and I’ve done a lot of controversial things. When you talk about the American Civil Liberties Union, I think they treat me better than [the Goldwater Institute] does.”
So why are the free market advocates at the Goldwater Institute picking a fight with Sheriff Arpaio? Might it have something to do with political power and the financial clout of Arizona’s elites? We’ll get to that speculation in a moment, but first some background.
Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was the Republican nominee for President 35 years ago. The “conservative” icon passed away in 1998 but his iconic name and political legacy still have great weight in some circles. I use conservative in quotes—and assert his legacy has influence only in some circles—because the meaning of the term “conservative” is useless today (i.e., National Review vs. The American Conservative). The impact of Goldwater’s politics and positions is lauded by some libertarian-leaning GOPers but exasperates others on the front lines of public policy fights.
The immigration issue is the prime example.
Senator Goldwater’s record on immigration was, at best, mixed. He voted for President Reagan’s amnesty for illegal aliens legislation in 1986. However, he once summed up his stance this way: “Don’t offer amnesty to those already here illegally. Sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants are unfair; it is the government’s responsibility to determine who is here legally. Start a guest worker program to ‘channel the flow’ of illegal immigrants through a legal mechanism.”
We can best see the late Senator’s legacy on immigration by looking at his politically active progeny.
Barry Goldwater, Jr., a former Congressman (R-CA), has asserted: “This hysteria [about immigration reform] has to stop. We all walk this world as human beings, and we should all seek to understand and help one another. We need to urge our lawmakers to practice tolerance and fairness, to become more involved in working for a comprehensive solution that will be just to all.”
In contrast, Don Goldwater—nephew of the late Senator and a 2006 GOP candidate for Governor of Arizona—is forthright in his opposition to lax and non-existent immigration controls. “It [immigration] encompasses everything. A lot of these people coming across [the border] are entering into the gangs. A lot of the women coming across are going into prostitution.” In support of a proposal to add 700 miles of fences along the U.S.-Mexico border, he stated: “I have a message for Mr. Bush: build us that wall now!” Don Goldwater, active in the Minuteman movement, promised that if elected he would use illegal immigrants to build the wall before deporting them.
In response, Barry Goldwater, Jr. (a fund raiser for the Goldwater Institute) wrote an editorial claiming his cousin’s bid for Governor had “become ensconced in the polarized political spectrum” and was “rapidly losing the respect of the business community and most rank-and-file Republican contributors.” He asserted that Don Goldwater and other immigration reform advocates “have tarnished the image of the Republican Party with the extreme hysteria and rhetoric they represent.” Curiously, Don Goldwater served on the board of the Goldwater Institute for a time.
The Goldwater vs. Goldwater controversy had its effect: Don Goldwater scored 40% of the vote in the GOP’s four way primary. The winner, a religious right candidate, captured only 35% against incumbent Governor Janet Napolitano in the general election and has gone on to endorse Senator John McCain as “worthy of the enthusiastic support of every thinking conservative.”
So, there are two kinds of Goldwaterites in Arizona, and the Goldwater Institute is certainly in one camp.
The Institute’s report on Sheriff Arpaio has received a lot of attention from the media. The leftist Phoenix New Times is blunt in its assessment of the results: “What makes the report so remarkable is its very existence: While libertarian in its orientation, the Goldwater Institute is enormously influential among Arizona Republicans of all stripes.”
Well, not exactly all stripes. The Institute has such allies as those who are seeking cheap labor (the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, promote amnesty for illegal aliens (Congressman Jeff Flake, a former Executive Director of the Institute and such elites as Robert Robb, now a columnist with the Arizona Republic newspaper and who previously served on the executive committees of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Goldwater Institute itself.
The Phoenix magazine article refers to the Institute as “the bedrock of Republicanism in Arizona” and gleefully declares: “The report sent shockwaves through the state’s political structure. The anti-immigration crowd went berserk; the rest of us let our mouths drop in astonishment. The very same words had been coming out of other mouths for months—Democrats such as former Governor Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Terry Goddard, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez—but to hear them come from the Goldwater Institute was amazing.”
Amazingly confusing and inconsistent.
The Institute’s report admits: “there is no question that Sheriff Arpaio [is] ‘tough’ on people arrested for or convicted of crimes—and that a large majority of Maricopa County voters applaud that toughness as evidenced by polls and past elections. But toughness is only one ingredient for a successful sheriff’s department, and by itself is far from sufficient.”
The report states Arizonians should have a sheriff that isn’t “diverting precious law-enforcement resources” on immigration sweeps, yet concedes “no question exists that a large number of illegal immigrants reside in Maricopa County and that they are disproportionately associated with crime … in 2007, illegal immigrants made up 18.7 percent of those who were actually convicted of felonies—including 33.5 percent of drug convictions, 20.7 percent of crimes with weapons …” Huh?
Many points in the Goldwater Institute study were simply culled from newspapers and other media outlets (at least 52 out of the 81 footnotes), who in turn praised the report. The report recommendations call for additional laws and regulations, a surprising stance for a self-described libertarian think tank. As Sheriff Joe Arpaio observed: “We don’t need new laws. [The Goldwater Institute] wants new legislation over and over again—we’re too big now, with too many laws.”
The ultimate assessment of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s job performance comes from his constituents. Maricopa County voters have re-elected him sheriff by double-digit margins in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. In 2007, a petition to recall Arpaio from office failed to gain enough signatures to get on the ballot. In a survey taken by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism while the petition was in circulation, nearly two thirds of respondents opposed the recall, and 65 percent of those polled held a positive opinion of Arpaio.
Proving the adage that he who laughs last laughs best, Fox television network has awarded Joe Arapio his own reality TV show: “Smile … You’re Under Arrest!”