Maricopa County Has a New Sheriff with a New Party, but Not Without Controversy

Maricopa County, you have a new head Sheriff. And as far as successions go, this one is a bit more controversial than most.

In a surprise move, Democrat Paul Penzone announced that he was stepping down to take a community relations job with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Cleaning up after the myriad federal restrictions in the wake of former Sheriff Arpaio seemed to handcuff him considerably in the role, and the salary is a limiting one. But the next move was a surprising one.

His Chief Deputy Russ Skinner changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat only one day after the resignation in a very clear move to lay the groundwork for the next step. Since successors of elected officials post-resignation need to be of the same political party of the official who resigned, Skinner had to become a Democrat to be considered.

Clearly he had already laid the necessary groundwork with the County Board of Supervisors, who then voted to appoint him to the role of County Sheriff for the remainder of the term. Only the single Democrat on the board voted against it, likely bristling at his party being co-opted purely for opportunity.

Skinner hasn’t said whether or not he will be running for this seat in November, but if he chooses to do so, his path might not be as easy as it would be for an incumbent. Will Democrats coalesce around someone who is in the truest sense of the word a DINO? Someone who quite literally changed parties for the sake of political expediency? Currently there is one Democrat who has declared for the office, Tyler Kamp, who counts Phoenix City Councilmember Kevin Robinson as his campaign chair; probably not someone to disregard.

And that’s just the Democratic primary. Former Arpaio staffer Jerry Sheridan is amongst several who are running on the Republican side. While Penzone did a great job at crossing over and appealing to more moderate Republican voters, does that mean that the Democratic brand is appealing to those same voters in a way that would help out Skinner? Unlikely. It stands to reason that a generic Republican would likely perform better in this election in 2024, especially as immigration is a hot-button issue again.

And perhaps the biggest question of all: now that Arpaio is (hopefully) in retirement and the position is no longer one of grandiosity but instead of prudent administration…do many people even care about this role? Does it even matter?