Looking Towards July 30th: the Democratic Primary for Maricopa County Sheriff

Russ Skinner

In our “Looking Towards July 30th” series we have been looking at contested primaries that may shape the future of our area. In our last installment, we look at one of the more unusual primaries, the Democratic primary for Maricopa County Sheriff.

This seat was never a truly intriguing one until Joe Arpaio and his particular style of bravado and camera-seeking tactics made him a household name nationally…until his thumbing of his nose to federal mandates led to an incredibly high bill due to county taxpayers and voters grew tired of his schtick. Paul Penzone defeated him in 2016 and won re-election in 2020, but recently decided that he desired a new path in his career and vacated his seat early.

And here is where it gets interesting: by rule, the person who is appointed to replace an elected official in the county must be of the same party as the person to be replaced. Penzone’s chief deputy Russ Skinner was in line to take over, but he was a Republican and Penzone a Democrat. Skinner switched parties and became a Democrat soon before the official announcement of Penzone leaving the seat. However, that means that Skinner, a lifelong Republican, will have to run in a Democratic primary.

The local Democratic Party was obviously not happy with the prospect of a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) in the purest sense of the word being their flag-bearer in this race, and thus recruited Tyler Kamp to run for the seat. Kamp has a long career in law enforcement and more specifically with the Phoenix Police Department as well as Director for a non-profit focused on eradicating poverty. He also has the full faith, support, and endorsement from the party.

That said, the endorsement of the party will only go so far, as the party is unlikely to spend money on a large-scale awareness campaign to tell its primary voters this; that will be on Kamp himself, and that comes down to money. Kamp has only filed one campaign finance report so far, and as of the end of March he had raised $19K with $18K cash on hand. Unimpressive numbers, but those are likely to materially change for the better when Q2 reports are filed in July.

Meanwhile, Skinner has raised a respectable $53.4K but has already spent $46K of that, leaving him with just over $7K cash on hand. This is where party support matters: Kamp was able to lean on the party to get the thousands of signatures to qualify for the ballot, but Skinner had to pay for those. Between a cash advantage and party support, Kamp is the clear front-runner at this point.

Meanwhile, while less intriguing than the dynamics on the Democrat side, the Republicans also have a contested primary as well. Longtime Joe Arpaio ally Jerry Sheridan is running and will be challenged by longtime Phoenix PD veteran Frank Milstead and Glendale PD veteran Mike Crawford. Sheridan has had a gigantic head start when it comes to fundraising as well as having previous campaign experience. So far this election cycle, he has raised an eye-popping $283K, has spent $115K, and has $170K cash on hand. Milstead has raised about $21K but spent $18K of that, leaving him with a paltry $3K cash on hand. Meanwhile, Crawford sits with a relatively strong $36K cash on hand, making him the only realistic competitor to Sheridan.

That said, it looks as though it will be Sheridan versus Kamp in the general election.