Maricopa County inmates will soon ride their exercise bikes to power television sets, America’s toughest Sheriff Joe Arpaio told a packed house at Tiny’s Restaurant Thursday.
“We’ll probably be sued on that one, too,” Arpaio said as audience members giggled.
He might have been joking, since a representative from the sheriff’s office later denied the plan, but with the self-styled nation’s “toughest sheriff,” you never know.
Arpaio blew into town Thursday, eating lunch with nearly 260 local Republicans and interested spectators at the Gila County Republican Committee Lincoln Day Dinner.
Meanwhile, inmates in Arpaio’s infamous tent city munched on bologna sandwiches.
“I have more people in jail than you have in this town,” he began after assuring the crowd of his geniality.
“I’m not mean, I’m a nice guy,” he continued. “If being mean is saying what you mean, then we need more people who are mean.”
During the lunch, Arpaio defended his controversial jail uniforms of pink underwear covered by black and white striped jumpsuits, and revealed that the feminine hue also happens to be his favorite color. He also suggested setting tents up along the nation’s border to jail illegal immigrants and railed against suggestions that he racially profiles.
If officials threw all the illegal immigrants they captured in jail, they would stop coming, Arpaio said. “They come to work. You can’t work in jail.”
Tiny’s Restaurant was packed, and Arpaio’s no-holds barred spiel held everyone accountable — from the media, which he says never reports his good deeds, to Democrats who he says persecute him for political reasons.
He even ridiculed Payson media, prefacing his exercise-bike-powering-televisions plan with, “We don’t have any real papers here.”
Candidates running for state offices took advantage of the large gathering to drop off campaign literature and shake hands. State Treasurer Dean Martin made an appearance, as well as congressional candidate Brad Beauchamp and candidate for state representative Brenda Barton.
Arpaio told the crowd that he hadn’t decided whether to run for governor in 2012. A gubernatorial go would require him to resign as Maricopa County Sheriff, leaving that county’s board of supervisors to appoint a new sheriff.
“You don’t think they’re going to appoint a guy like me,” he said. Arpaio said he’d run for sheriff again if not for governor.
Arpaio has generated nationwide controversy over his immigration sweeps that critics call racial profiling. Advocates say Arpaio is the only bureaucrat willing to enforce the law, and Arpaio says much of the heat is politically motivated.
The Obama administration last year stripped Arpaio of his right to enforce federal immigration law and began investigating allegations of racial profiling. In Arizona, the raids have drawn fire from the public and some politicians.
“The only thing I’m a little confused about — all of the people involved in this are Democrats,” Arpaio said.
“It’s really sad, really sad, that it took the Obama administration only 60 days to come after this sheriff,” he continued. “I’m just a little old sheriff.”
The supportive crowed cheered him and, at his urging, thanked him for defending the nation’s borders.
“I’m getting tired of all the heat I’m taking. But that’s okay; we’re doing the right thing.” He added, “every time they hit me, I go out and lock up more.”
One recent illegal immigrant arrested had already been deported from the United States, but returned and stole a Maricopa County Sheriff's deputy’s identity to find work.
“I’m not against immigration,” Arpaio said. “But, if you want to come into this country, do it legally.”
Arpaio, who worked for years in Mexico and around the world as a federal narcotics agent, continued, “I know where the U.S./Mexico border is. I don’t want to bad mouth politicians, but not many of them know how to get there.”
“Secure the border. Secure the border,” he whined in a voice mimicking an annoying person. “I’m so tired” of hearing that.
A fence will do no good until law enforcement officials actually jail the people who enter this country illegally, Arpaio added.
Arpaio's jails, especially tent city, have also earned national scrutiny. Critics say it’s cruel to keep prisoners there during Arizona’s punishing summers.
In the jails, Arpaio spends 16 cents per meal, up from 14 cents. He also limits television to C-Span, the Food Network and the Weather Channel so that prisoners will see places like Alaska while they sweat out their lunch and be tempted to purchase a one-way ticket, Arpaio said.
“If I had all the money in the world, the tents would still be there,” Arpaio said. “Our men and women are fighting for our country and they’re living in tents.” Murmurs of approval sprang from the crowd.
Arpaio said one of the questions he most frequently fields involves his inmates’ pink underwear. One, prisoners don’t like pink. Two, they stole the white pairs.
“I’m an equal opportunity person,” Arpaio said. Women wear pink underwear too. They also work on the chain gangs.
“They want to be governor and everything else,” Arpaio said. So, females can also do the labor.
In two minutes, Arpaio can enact any controversial policy he wants to because he’s elected.
“I’d be fired tomorrow,” he said, “if I had to report to someone.”
Arpaio continued, “I took an oath of office to enforce all the laws” — human smuggling, employer sanction and illegal immigration.
“I’m the only one doing it.”