Maricopa County voters lean toward Democrats for sheriff, county attorney

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Republican challenger Jerry Sheridan, left, formerly was chief deputy to Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County’s controversial sheriff for 24 years. He faced Paul Penzone, right, who defeated Arpaio in 2016. (Photos courtesy of the candidates’ campaigns)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County residents voted for several countywide officials, including sheriff, attorney, assessor, treasurer, school superintendent and recorder.

In a county that has historically leaned Republican, Democrats appeared poised to have a lead on several high-profile offices, according to unofficial results from the Maricopa County Recorder’s office Wednesday.

There were at least 400,000 early ballots and 18,000 provisional ballots that need to be counted, according to an email from the elections officials on Wednesday. Results were expected to be updated Wednesday night.

“I think the voter awareness in Arizona is as high as it has ever been,” OH Predictive Insights chief pollster Mike Noble said. “I am not surprised at the level of enthusiasm among voters.”

County sheriff

Democratic incumbent Paul Penzone ran against Republican challenger Jerry Sheridan, and Penzone appeared poised to keep his seat and serve a second term as sheriff after, according to unofficial results from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

The sheriff leads the county’s law enforcement units, manages the office’s budget and oversees the county jail system and the care of inmates.

Before voters elected Penzone to succeed controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2016, Penzone was a member of the Phoenix Police Department for 21 years.

After retiring from police work, Penzone spent time as the vice president of ChildHelp, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse and treating those who have been affected.

Penzone said he hopes to continue his office’s work with the African American, Hispanic and LGBTQ communities.

“As the sheriff, I have a responsibility every day to make sure my treatment and respect I show for everyone in the community becomes an example,” Penzone told Cronkite News before Election Day. “We just have to make sure there’s balance, that we’re doing a great job, and that those who are invested in participating with us have a seat at the table to help us be better.”

Sheridan, who was chief deputy during Arpaio’s final six years, beat his former boss in the primary and ran for sheriff for the first time. In 2016, Arpaio was found in civil contempt for ignoring a federal order to stop deputies from racially profiling Hispanics.

Sheridan began his career with the Sheriff’s Office as a detention officer in 1978 and spent time in various positions in law enforcement, including police captain, chief of patrol and chief of custody. He also teaches law enforcement classes at county community colleges.

County attorney

Julie Gunnigle is poised to become the first woman in the county’s history to be elected county attorney.

Democrat Gunnigle held a small lead over incumbent Allister Adel, according to unofficial results from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

Gunnigle was born and raised in Maricopa County and graduated from the University of Notre Dame. As an assistant state’s attorney in Cook County, Illinois, she prosecuted financial crime and public corruption.

Gunnigle’s campaign platform includes protecting women, children and seniors from violent crimes, addressing mass incarceration and sentencing reform and holding law enforcement accountable.

After Gov. Doug Ducey appointed County Attorney Bill Montgomery to Arizona’s Supreme Court in September 2019, the Board of Supervisors appointed Republican Allister Adel to replace him.

Adel began her legal career at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, where she was a deputy county attorney for seven years. She was executive director of the Maricopa County Bar Association from 2016-18.

Adel’s campaign platform consisted of keeping children and families safe, reforming the criminal justice system and providing ethical leadership.

Adel was hospitalized and underwent surgery for “bleeding to the brain” Tuesday night, according to a campaign statement. Adel’s campaign spokesperson said in the statement that Adel was in “serious but stable condition.”

The election comes just over a week after the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barret, who is seen as an opponent of abortion rights.

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Gunnigle, who is endorsed by Planned Parenthood, told KJZZ that she would not prosecute residents for health care matters if Roe v. Wade was overturned by the high court.

“I am terrified as to what a post-Roe Arizona would look like, and what’s at stake in our Supreme Court and in our county attorney race for reproductive justice,” Gunnigle told KJZZ.

Adel disagreed with Gunnigle’s decision, calling it “far-fetched.”

“Your duty as a top prosecutor is to enforce the laws that are on the books whether you agree with them or not,” Adel told KJZZ.

County assessor

Republican incumbent Eddie Cook appeared poised to defeat Democratic challenger Aaron Connor in the race for Maricopa County Assessor, according to unofficial results from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

In January, County Assessor Paul Petersen resigned after being indicted in October 2019 in connection with an adoption fraud scheme. The Board of Supervisors unanimously appointed Republican Eddie Cook to replace Peterson. Cook had been a member of the Gilbert Town Council for nine years.

When Cook first stepped into the assessor’s role, he added a chief deputy assessor to help, as his online campaign site states to “transform the organization into a high-performance team providing the highest quality of services.”

County treasurer

Republican John Allen appears poised to become the next Maricopa County Treasurer.

According to unofficial results from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, Allen led his Democratic opponent Daniel Toporek on Wednesday afternoon.

After beating incumbent County Treasurer Royce Flora in the primary, Allen hoped to make the jump from state to county government Tuesday. Allen spent 11 of the past 17 years in the Arizona House of Representatives and served as majority leader in 2017 and 2018.

Toporek spent 34 years as a pilot for the Marines and Army. Toporek retired from the military in 2019, and he decided to run for office to continue his work in public service.

County recorder

Democratic incumbent Adrian Fontes appeared poised to earn another term as Maricopa County recorder.

According to unofficial returns from the Maricopa County Recorder’s office, Fontes held a small lead over Republican Stephen Richer as of Wednesday afternoon.

Fontes served in the Marines before practicing law for 15 years. He earned degrees from Arizona State University and the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

Fontes was criticized in 2018 when dozens of polls could not open on time. At the time, Fontes said the problem, which he blamed on a contractor, was resolved within hours and did not affect any votes.

Richer ran “to make the recorder’s office boring again” to deliver fair and competent elections without “partisan activism.”

Richer, an attorney in downtown Phoenix who graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, had previously served on the Arizona Board of Humanities and as an Arizona Industry Fellow.

The county recorder oversees voter registration, all the county’s recorded documents and sending ballots to voters who request them.

County school superintendent

Democrat Jeanne Casteen held a small lead over Republican Steve Watson in the race to become the next Maricopa County School Superintendent on Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial results from the county recorder’s office.

Casteen serves as the president of the Creighton School District Governing Board. She campaigned on her promise to provide education to every child regardless of economic status and her goal to increase teacher salaries.

The role of superintendent consists of overseeing school board elections, bond and override elections, appointments, school finance and maintaining homeschool and private school records, according to the office’s website.

Watson advocated and helped create the STEM Resource Center to provide resources to Maricopa County teachers for free.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Christopher Howley expects to graduate in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. He is a digital reporter for Cronkite Sports and has worked as a sustainability reporter.