At a time when most of America was looking for answers in the Tucson shootings, trying to understand what mix of privation and perversion could drive an individual to shoot indiscriminately into a crowd of innocent bystanders, longtime Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik had his answers prepackaged and ready for prime time.
It was the right-wing rhetoric, Dupnik told the crowds at his press conferences — along with Fox News, MSNBC, and anybody else who would listen. It was the violent rhetoric of tea partiers, talk-show hosts, and Sarah Palin who had turned Arizona into a “mecca for racism and bigotry,” and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others was but “the fruit of” their irresponsible statements.
And as if there were any doubt about whether the sheriff’s pronouncements represented the measured judgment of a criminal investigator or the shameless opportunism of a political hack, he told Fox’s Megyn Kelly that not only was the Right complicit in the crimes of Jared Lee Loughner, but — and perhaps even worse — it was standing athwart the hope-and-change express. “I grew up in a country that was totally different than the country we have today,” he said. “We see one party trying to block the attempts of another party to make this a better country.”
When National Review Online asked Pima County GOP chairman Brian Miller whether there was any doubt in his mind that Dupnik, a vocal liberal in a state with comparably few, had used his office to score political points in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, an almost incredulous Miller responded: “No doubt at all. It’s inarguable. It’s been videotaped.”
And now, Pima County Republicans are more determined than ever to do something about it. They’ve launched dumpsheriffdupnik.com, the virtual locus of a money-bomb that hopes to raise $100,000 to oust the 30-year, seven-term incumbent.
While the election isn’t until 2012 and the $100,000 figure is being called just “an initial goal,” Miller says his party is intent on keeping its foot on the gas and doing all it can to retire Dupnik.
Miller calls Dupnik’s public appearances in the wake of the Tucson shootings merely “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“We just want to be able to hold him accountable for what he’s done professionally — or more accurately, unprofessionally,” he says.
“He has continuously come out, very unprofessionally, as the chief law-enforcement officer in the county,” Miller elaborates, adding that in the Loughner case Dupnik has “corrupted the investigation” and “potentially made the prosecution’s case more difficult” with his speculations.
Still, Republicans will have their work cut out for them. In 2008, Republican sheriff nominee Harry Shaw garnered just 35.2 percent of the vote against Dupnik’s 64.6 percent. Miller says that there are “a couple of prospects” on the Republican side of the ticket for 2012, but that it is too soon to expect any public declarations.
This time, however, they’ll have the help of local Tea Party groups. The Pima County Tea Party Patriots plan to hold a “Dump Dupnik” rally in front of the sheriff’s headquarters on Friday, January 28. According to event literature, tea partiers will protest in front of Dupnik’s office for choosing “to politicize a tragedy” instead of “conducting an investigation and providing a voice of calm for our City.”
There is also a separate effort by local volunteers to collect signatures for a recall petition.
Does Miller think Republicans and tea partiers are exploiting events in their own right, using Dupnik’s new found infamy as a fund-raising hook? No.
“He has made himself into a national issue by what he has been doing, and we will use his words against him. That is very fair and we will continue to do it,” Miller says.
— Daniel Foster is NRO’s news editor.