PHOENIX – Excitement. Relief. Fear. Determination.
All of these emotions were on hand less than a day after Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was unseated by his Democratic opponent Paul Penzone, during a press conference in which Latino activists who played a key role in Arpaio’s defeat stood in front of the sheriff’s office.
Activists voiced pride for a decade’s worth of civil disobedience, protests, parades, voter engagement and community organizing that they said led to Arpaio’s defeat. But they also expressed concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s planned immigration policies, and its impact on immigrants.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Ernesto Lopez, a regional leader for Bazta Arpaio, a Phoenix human-rights and voter engagement nonprofit focused in recent months on removing Arpaio from office. The movement’s main goal was to get Arpaio “fired” after years of controversial actions and lawsuits, Lopez said.
“We beat Arpaio, but we still have Trump to deal with,” he said.
Arpaio was not available for comment on Wednesday. His public information officer referred Cronkite News to Arpaio’s campaign manager, Chad Willems, who did not respond to requests for interviews.
Alberto Gutier, sergeant of arms of the Arizona Republican Party and a longtime friend of Arpaio’s, said criticism of Arpaio’s human rights record is unfair. Few recognize the good in Arpaio’s career, he said and focus instead on Arpaio’s immigration controversies.
“Joe enforced the law that was put on the books,” Gutier said.
“Why have a law if you’re not going to enforce it?” he asked.
Paul Penzone was not available for comment. But in his victory speech at the Democratic watch party at a downtown Phoenix hotel on Tuesday night, Penzone spoke of police reform and unity with the community.
Tim Sifert, the communications director for the Arizona Republican Party, said county Republicans were disappointed by Arpaio’s loss but noted the party had a good night with the victories of Trump and Sen. John McCain.
Maricopa County Republican Party Chairman Tyler Bowyer refused to comment on Arpaio’s loss.
“We’ve made a statement across the nation,” he said. “Arizona stands for something greater. No matter where we come from or what we look like or what we believe, we’re all entitled to respect…history will be defined by what we do collectively moving forward.”
Tuesday’s demonstration was coordinated by Bazta Arpaio, created in August after dozens of community members to oust the sheriff after a reign of “inhumane practices inside the jails, his inhumane practices in migrant communities, specifically Latino communities, and his inhumane practices to arrest people based on race,” Lopez said.
Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, dubbed the day after the election as the first day of a battle to restore human rights to minority communities.
As each speaker took the stand, Bazta Arpaio supporters and members stood in the crowd nodding in agreement. The group’s giant trademark inflatable balloon of Arpaio in handcuffs and prison garb bounced in the wind behind them.
Tomas Robles, the campaign chair of a successful Proposition 206, which increased the minimum wage in Arizona to $12 hourly, said regardless of race or ethnicity, the community must “stand together” to ensure their Arpaio victory would propel them forward.
While the group is not sure of Penzone’s plans for the sheriff’s office, Robles said activists hope to build a bridge between law enforcement and minority communities while still holding law enforcement accountable.
Maria Rodriguez, an undocumented immigrant and voter-outreach volunteer, said the fight won’t end with Arpaio’s defeat.
“I am an undocumented woman and I am not afraid,” Rodriguez said.
“I am ready to fight.”
Andres Guerra Luz contributed to this report.