Turns out a presidential pardon can give you a whole new outlook on life — recent pardon recipient and former sheriff Joe Arpaio is considering a run for political office, thanks to the freedom Donald Trump bestowed upon him last week. The 85-year-old might just be trolling the country now that all eyes are on him, but he could also make a compelling and dangerous conservative politician.
The former sheriff told USA TODAY that he won't rule it out, because that's his right as an American citizen who's now no longer facing jail time. “I’m keeping open that I may run for political office because that’s part of the political system,” Arpaio said to USA TODAY.
Arpaio seemed ambivalent about what office he may run for in the USA TODAY interview, but when he spoke with The Washington Examiner, he seemed to be gunning for Arizona senator Jeff Flake's position. Flake happens to be one of Trump's opponents.
"I'm sure getting a lot of people around the state asking me [to challenge Flake]," said Arpaio. "All I'm saying is the door is open and we'll see what happens. I've got support. I know what support I have."
Arpaio also told the Examiner that his age is not an issue for him, and shouldn't be a consideration in a potential run for office. "I'm proud to be my age. I work 14 hours a day," Arpaio said in his interview. If anyone thinks my age is going to hold me back, I've got news for them."
Arpaio served as the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona for 28 years until his reign was felled by Democratic challenger Paul Penzone in the 2016 election. His defeat was in part thanks to longstanding allegations of systematic racism against Arpaio and his department. In 2011, Arpaio was issued a federal court order to stop detaining immigrants without charges — his refusal to obey that order is what eventually earned him the conviction for criminal contempt. Before Trump issued his presidential pardon, Arpaio was facing the possibility of up to six months in federal prison for his crime.
It's that immutability in the face of the law, and his ability to get away with it for so long, that makes Arpaio such a potentially concerning politician. His popularity within Arizona gradually fell away over the years, but he still has a dedicated group of supporters who fund his legal defense to the tune of millions of dollars per year. Like Trump, he has an ear to the anger of some communities, and he's shown himself to have little disregard for civil rights as well. It's a terrifying combination, especially for the millions of marginalized Americans who have witnessed their own civil rights come under attack during Trump's presidency.