By Valeria Fernández
New America Media
Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
PHOENIX — A citizen’s group called Respect Arizona filed paperwork at the Maricopa County Elections Department on Wednesday to initiate a recall effort against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The group would need to gather 335,317 signatures by May 30 of this year in order for the county to call a special election for the sheriff’s office.
Several Republican figures are at the center of the effort to recall Arpaio, who has been re-elected to his post six times since 1993. Williams James Fisher, the chairman of Respect Arizona and a Republican attorney, is expected to announce the recall effort at press conference Thursday morning.
Arpaio narrowly won re-election last November with 50.7 percent of the vote, after a strong voter registration campaign lead by Latinos took place countywide to oust him from office. His campaign war chest had over $8 million dollars, most of it coming from out of state.
Over the last five years, the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest” sheriff rose to notoriety due to his immigration sweeps in Latino neighborhoods and his raids in businesses that hire undocumented laborers.
Those actions put him at the crosshairs of civil rights lawsuits alleging racial profiling – one brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, and another filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which is awaiting a federal judge ruling.
Arpaio has also been criticized for his role in misspending $100 million in taxpayer dollars from a jail tax fund that was used to conduct investigations on political enemies and on immigration enforcement, rather than on jails.
Another scandal, one that drove many Republican voters away from Arpaio during the last election, involved the mishandling of investigations of over 400 sexual crimes against children.
Arpaio was the target of a 5-year-long criminal investigation by the Department of Justice over alleged abuse of power, although that case was closed last year without any charges being filed.
The effort to recall Arpaio comes on the heels of a successful campaign in 2011 to recall Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, a Republican that sponsored SB 1070 – one of the most stringent state immigration laws in the country. Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA), a bi-partisan group lead by Randy Parraz, a long time critical voice against Arpaio’s office, successfully collected over 70,000 signatures that were needed at the time to get Pearce to face a special election, in which he lost.
“These are citizens who are organizing under the name of Respect Arizona. They came together and they made a decision that they’re going to move forward with the recall of Sheriff Arpaio, and that effort officially was launched today with the filing,” said Parraz, who supports the group.