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New Maricopa County sheriff plans to run full term as a Democrat

Sheriff Russ Skinner and two other former Republicans are running in the Democratic primary. In an interview with 12News, Skinner explains his views on politics, Penzone and Arpaio.

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Russ Skinner was appointed to the job four weeks ago.

Now that the 34-year MCSO veteran has been promoted to the top job, he wants to stay there.

At his first news conference last week, Skinner told reporters he was campaigning for a full four-year term.

“I had a lot of support from internal staff,” said Skinner, who followed in the footsteps of his father, who was an MCSO sheriff's deputy. He said it meant a lot to him to rise through the ranks as a rare homegrown sheriff.

“I looked back on it and thought, 'I'm going to regret it if I don't do it,'” Skinner said.

But the sheriff's race may be unlike any other. Three candidates who until recently were lifelong Republicans are vying for votes in the Democratic primary.

That was one of the key takeaways from Skinner's first press conference on Tuesday and subsequent interview with 12News.

Former Republican running as Democrat

In the Democratic primary for county sheriff, all three current candidates are running as of October 2, 2023, when Sheriff Paul Penzone announced he would not serve the final year of his second four-year term. He was a registered Republican.

State law required the Maricopa County Commission to appoint a sheriff from the same Democratic Party as Penzone.

According to records provided by the Maricopa County Recorder's Office:

  • Mr. Skinner re-registered as a Democrat the day after Mr. Penzone announced he would resign. Mr. Skinner won the appointment and his term ends the day after the winner of the November election is announced.
  • Jeffrey Kirkham, former Apache Junction and Nogales police chief, was a finalist for the sheriff's appointment. He changed his registration to Democratic in January.
  • Former Phoenix Police Lt. Tyler Kampf changed his registration to Democrat in December 2023. Kampf is the only candidate endorsed by the Maricopa County Democratic Party.

The lack of Democrats running in years underscores the dearth of registered Democrats in law enforcement leadership positions and the thin pool of Democratic candidates overall.

Each new Democrat must submit a petition with the signatures of at least 3,905 registered Democrats by April 1.

Switching parties is not unprecedented. The last Democratic sheriff did the same thing.

In 2011, before his first race against Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2012, Penzone changed his party registration from Independent to Democrat.

“I'm not tied to political affiliation,” Skinner said. “I'm a law enforcement professional. I'm not going to let that change the way I do my job…I'm not a politician. If anyone has any basis or legitimacy to criticize me for that, I will be happy to answer those questions. ”

Skinner said he doesn't remember if he voted for then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

“I don't remember. It's possible,” he said. “I'm not going to say one candidate is better, but I'm not going to say one is worse either.”

“The polarization has gotten really serious to the point where it's impacting the general public and communities,” Skinner said. “We need to make sure we have people who are going to stand up and do the right thing…I want to be one of them.”

Differences with Penzone regarding court orders

Skinner, who was former Sheriff Paul Penzone's second-in-command, does not share Penzone's frustrations with the federal court's response to the order, which has been in place since 2013.

A court monitor was placed on the MCSO after a federal judge found that the sheriff's office violated the civil rights of Latinos under the Arpaio administration.

Mr. Penzone made a violent broadside upon his departure.

“I would be damned if I served three terms under federal court supervision because of debts I didn't owe and denied me the opportunity to serve this community in the best way I can,” he told reporters last October. Deaf,” he said.

The order requires MCSO to make hundreds of reforms at a cost of more than $250 million.

“Sheriff Penzone may have had a lot of frustration,” Skinner said. “And that I may have expressed my opinion and that I clearly have a right to do so.”

Skinner became MCSO's first compliance officer after a court order was granted in 2013.

“I don’t think there’s an opportunity in leadership to be upset about this…we need to be,” Skinner said. “This is something your agency is required to do, and there's been a lawsuit involving this agency, and a federal judge has issued several court orders against this agency, whether I'm annoyed or not. , if there is an order, it must be obeyed. We expect the public to obey when a court order is issued by a judge… to ensure that this is complied with. it needs to be checked.”

Skinner also disagrees with Penzone on whether rising court monitoring costs will hinder MCSO's ability to raise funds for its operations.

“I don't know if I'd say it's a nuisance,” Skinner said. “That's something you have to be aware of. And you have to balance that.”

Skinner's time under Arpaio

Skinner worked for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio throughout Arpaio's 24-year term. What did he think of Mr. Arpaio's actions during his tenure, including immigration checks and traffic stops that led to court orders?

“Is there anything he's done that I agree with or that I don't agree with? Or is it something he's done to this agency? Potentially yes,” Skinner said. . “But at the end of the day, I'm an employee of this office and he's the leader of this office. I did my job nonetheless. Was there any criticism that I was aware of? Obviously, we saw it in the media. I wasn't necessarily at the root of the agency as a deputy, I was working in a remote area of ​​Maricopa County at the time.”

“Did I specifically know that there was any legitimacy to this? I can't say I knew in that regard. But there have been criticisms of the office and some of his leadership. I know that… So I had to do this: I am doing my job correctly, ethically, morally, and protecting this institution in my area of ​​responsibility. I am convinced.”

What are his top priorities?

The primary mission of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is to serve as the warden for the fourth largest county in the country. MCSO houses an average of 7,000 inmates per day. MCSO deputies also patrol unincorporated areas of the county, as well as lakes and parks within the county.

In a press conference before the interview, Skinner confirmed several priorities.

What's the one thing he can accomplish next year that would make a difference for county residents and 3,000 employees?

“We can't focus on one because these are all emergencies,” he said. “My biggest focus this year is staff recruitment and retention and looking at those areas. But we have a contentious election cycle coming up. We want to make sure that we can provide safe and secure safety and security, and that we get through 2024 and don't end up on the map as another controversial situation.”

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