Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has no interest in running for Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) soon-to-be vacated seat, he said on Thursday. Instead, the controversial lawman, who was recently pardoned by President Donald Trump, has his sights on a higher office.
“I am seriously, seriously, seriously considering running for the U.S. Senate,” Arpaio told The Daily Beast, “not the congressman’s seat.”
Whatever he decides, Arpaio’s next political step will have profound implications in the Grand Canyon State. He is a darling of anti-immigration hardliners, but reviled by Democrats and even some mainstream Republicans for his reputation of breaking the law to enforce it.
On Thursday, a spot opened him to run for the House of Representatives. Franks, who represents Arizona’s 8th congressional district, announced his intent to resign from his seat following reports that he had approached two female staffers about the possibility of serving as gestational surrogates for him and his wife. The House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into whether Franks “engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment.”
Reached by The Daily Beast while grocery shopping, Arpaio said he had not yet heard of Franks’ impending resignation.
“He is a great man, and a great friend, and it’s a great loss for Arizona and our country,” said Arpaio, after being informed of the news. But Arpaio, a former six-term county sheriff, dismissed the possibility of running to replace Franks, noting that he did not reside in the Arizona 8th congressional district.
When The Daily Beast pointed out that the U.S. Constitution specifies that members of the House of Representatives merely be residents of their state, not their specific district, Arpaio said that it was not Franks’ seat, but retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s, that has caught his eye.
“No, I would not consider it, but I am considering running for the Senate, Flake’s seat,” Arpaio told The Daily Beast while buying a half-pound of meat at the deli counter. “I feel like I just gave you a little scoop there.”
Arpaio is an outsize—and divisive—figure in modern Arizona politics. Serving for nearly a quarter century as the sheriff of the state’s largest county, he styled himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” He was a staunch opponent of illegal immigration who, himself, was accused of numerous crimes. During his tenure, which ended with his defeat to a Democratic rival in 2016, Arpaio was accused of abuse of power, unconstitutional jail conditions at his infamous “Tent City” outdoor jail, and criminal contempt of court for his refusal to stop detaining Latinos based on the belief they were in the U.S. illegally.
“Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old, and after more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation, he is worthy candidate for a presidential pardon,” the White House said at the time.
Arizona Democrats have pointed to his landmark defeat in 2016—Arpaio lost to Democratic challenger Paul Penzone by more than 12 points—as evidence that they would have little to worry about if the former sheriff entered the crowded race for Flake’s seat.
“Bring him on. He lost in 2016. We can defeat him in 2018,” Ann Heitland, communications chair of the Coconino County Democratic Party, which encompasses Flagstaff, told The Daily Beast in August.
Should Arpaio enter the field, it could very well split the Trump political orbit. Kelli Ward, a former state senator, is already preparing a run. And she has the backing of a pro-Trump Super PAC as well as the Mercer family, which is closely associated with Trump political adviser Steve Bannon.
But Arpaio is undeterred.
“I’ve beat ’em six times before,” Arpaio said.