EMERSON: 45 Minutes With The Sheriff

…and no I wasn’t arrested.

This past week I was in our snow laden nation’s capital and a waitress mentioned to our table of engaging and boisterous political operatives that she had once lived in Maricopa County, Arizona…the home of the esteemed toughest Sheriff in America.

In my time in politics, I’ve been around a politician or two, but none like Sheriff Joe. In 2012, a friend of mine and I decided to host an event in North Carolina with Sheriff Joe as the guest speaker. We had had previous positive dealings with him, and he easily agreed to be a part of the event.

Later in the evening, after the Sheriff had already been driven back to his hotel, I was told that I would need to drive him to the airport the next morning. This was mostly due to the fact that the others were inebriated following a successful evening and likely in no position to get him to his 8am flight.

I was 24 and had interacted on a professional level with most of our high-profile Republican politicians (and seemed to always run into Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in random cities), but something about being alone in a car with this 80 year old wrecking ball of a man actually gave me a brush of fear. I barely caught a wink of sleep. I had nightmares of somehow missing the 27 alarms I set and forcing him to miss his flight.

I arrived probably an hour before he was reasonably expecting me. He was at a bed and breakfast so I wasn’t sure whether to circle the neighborhood looking like a potential sexual predator, sit in the drive way like a stalker, knock on his door and appear like an over zealous fan, or call and disturb the man who has no fear of the Department of Justice. I opted for none of the above, and I texted an octogenarian with a cell phone that may not have had a color screen.

Of course, 10 minutes later, I still had no response and naturally assumed he never received the text on his antiquated flip phone. About 20 minutes later, his door opens. He walks to my car, and I get out to help him with his bag, which he politely refused. He looks at me and mumbles, “I saw you out of the window. Were you just going to sit there or were you going to knock on my door?” Oops…

In the 45 minute car ride that ensued, we discussed everything from his grandkids to his 54 years of marriage to his work with the DEA in the US and overseas to his opinion of John McCain and the more controversial topics of pink boxers and Obama’s birth certificate. I asked him if his sixth term would be his last. He responded, “Hell no, I’m going to keep running just to piss ’em all off.” Indicative of his age and regard for being in the presence of ladies, that’s as profane as it ever got.

We asked the aforementioned DC waitress what she thought of the Sheriff, and she said, “Well, he’s a little crazy, but no one wants to get arrested in Maricopa. I’ve had friends get a DUI once, and they’ll never put themselves in a position to get one again in Maricopa County.”

Sheriff Joe is a polarizing figure and sometimes he gets a little sensational with the media when it comes to the President’s birth certificate. In some respects, he’s a crazy old geezer who loves to mess with reporters and tease Eric Holder’s regime. But in other ways, he’s the disciplinary father who loves his children enough to punish them.

I’ve seen the media call him everything from insane to brutal over making prisoners live in tents, eat bread and drink water, and wear pink boxers. Insane…well, maybe a little, but brutal…no way. He’s not infringing upon prisoners’ rights with any of this.

His reaction to the heat in “tent city” was on point: It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents, have to wear full body armor, and they didn’t commit any crimes, so shut your mouths.

I’m not for inhumane treatment, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be detained for a crime you did not commit. However, when you do commit a crime, you still have rights as a citizen of this great nation, but you should not be withheld from real consequences. Prison should not be a time of restricted summer camp. Obviously prisoners should be fed, but no where does it say they should have a wide variety of gourmet foods. Prisoners should have shelter, but they are not guaranteed climate controlled Holiday Inns. It’s prison. You’re there to learn a lesson and hopefully not return.

He’s not without fault…none of us are, but at least Joe is being proactive. He’s trying to change a culture that is getting progressively passive when it comes to consequences to crime. He was recently in the news again regarding his restricting prisoners who disrespect the American flag to bread and water. Most people either don’t understand his message or don’t care. It’s about something even greater than a piece of fabric and a restricted diet, it’s about respect. Our nation and our culture are lacking it.

He may be a little flamboyant about it, but he’s being creative and taking action. He’s not just sitting there collecting a paycheck and thinking about reelection, he’s trying to make prisoners not want to go back to prison.

Thankfully, my 45 minutes with Sheriff Joe were not spent in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, but they made just as much of an impression. He was hilarious, light-hearted, caring, real, and genuinely a nice grandfather-type guy. He was proud of his family, his country, his work in Maricopa County, and yes, he seems to very much enjoy toying with reporters and the guys in suits.

We arrived at the airport. I offered to go check him in, but he declined. He handed me his card, and obligatorily invited me to come visit if I was ever in Phoenix. He got out with his one black suitcase that looked like it could tell more stories than an anthology…unassuming, and he was back off to Phoenix. I didn’t ask if he was wearing pink boxers….my only regret. And thankfully, neither one of us realized that in my frenzy that morning, I had just driven America’s Toughest Sheriff 45 minutes to the airport…without my driver’s license.

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