Tough Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio gives endorsement to Waterfield

Assembly candidate Etta Waterfield has secured the endorsement of polarizing Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., who bills himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” but has also been investigated for alleged civil rights and labor code violations.

The presence of Arpaio in an Assembly race in his neighboring state illustrates the role that illegal immigration has come to play in the Republican campaign for California’s 33rd Assembly District.

Four Republicans are seeking to replace Sam Blakeslee, who could not run again because of term limits. They are San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, San Luis Obispo financial planner Matt Kokkonen, Paso Robles City Councilman Fred Strong, and Waterfield.

Democrat Hilda Zacarias, an accountant and Santa Maria city councilwoman, is unopposed in the June 8 primary, as is Libertarian Paul Polson, an Arroyo Grande carpenter.

Among Republicans, the quest for the nomination became a race to the right when Arizona passed an anti-illegal immigrant law. Many critics have said that, in seeking to address a serious social and economic problem, it violated the U.S. Constitution and invited racial profiling.

Its backers deny that, and add that Arizona was right to address a problem that the federal government had too long ignored.

Kokkonen called for passage of a similar law in California and challenged his opponents to support him. None did, although all said illegal immigration is a problem.

All the Republican candidates, and Democrat Zacarias, said the federal government needs to do more to fix the problem.

Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, was a highly visible anti-illegal immigrant icon before the Arizona law passed. The bill gave him an even wider audience.

In announcing Arpaio’s endorsement, Waterfield, a former Santa Maria planning commissioner, said his backing “continues to establish her reputation as a ‘tough on illegal immigration’ candidate.”

“A country that ceases to protect its borders is a country that has lost touch with reality,” Arpaio said in a news release issued by Waterfield.

“The reality is that we are being bankrupted by the massive waves of immigration coming across our borders,” he went on. “Furthermore, we are letting in hundreds of thousands of dangerous criminals who only prey upon our citizens.”

“This has to stop and I am proud to support those who will stand by me on this issue. That’s why I am supporting Etta Waterfield,” he said. “She will fight alongside me for ironclad immigration reform that can’t be swayed by special interests.”

The sheriff has been the subject of a panoply of charges and accusations over the years.

For example, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division looked into whether Arpaio’s office engaged in “patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures,” according to published reports.

Last year, the Arizona Department of Labor began investigating whether Arpaio was refusing to pay detention officers for overtime.

Arpaio also famously used chain gangs and housed inmates in a “Tent City” in the desert and made prisoners wear pink underwear.

All that brought protests but also considerable support from those who lauded him for being tough on law-breakers.