Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Thursday defended an Arizona state legislator who has been slammed by civil rights groups for making racist jokes at a roast for the tough-talking lawman over the weekend.
"I have no problem with what Kavanagh said," Arpaio told Newsmax in an exclusive interview. He was referring to State Sen. John Kavanagh, who ribbed him at a dinner of the Western Conservative Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center on Saturday.
"He's a very funny guy. He's my friend," Arpaio said. "He's not a racist — and he was just having fun going after me."
During his roast, Kavanagh told disparaging jokes about Hispanics, Muslims and Asians. "Sheriff Joe is the kind of guy that you gotta love — as long as you have papers," the legislator, a Republican who represents Scottsdale, joked at one point.
Audio excerpts of Kavanagh's remarks were posted on Wednesday afternoon by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The posting came hours before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples because of their religious convictions.
The law center, based in Montgomery, Ala., has long attacked Arpaio for his tough stance on such issues as inmate punishment, illegal immigration — as well as on his advocacy of armed citizen militias in assisting local law-enforcement.
Kavanagh, a former New York City police officer who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from Rutgers University, was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2006. He faces re-election this fall.
He voted last week for the bill that Brewer vetoed on Wednesday. He joked about the legislation at the Arpaio roast.
"Now, a lot of people claim that SB 1062 is gonna cause discrimination based upon religion in Arizona," Kavanagh began. "And I scoffed at that until tonight, when a Muslim waiter serving up here walked up to Sheriff Joe, wouldn’t give him his dinner 'cause, he said, ‘I don’t serve swine.'"
Kavanagh's remarks brought attacks from local civil-rights leaders as racist and unbecoming of an elected official, but the state senator dismissed them in an interview with The Arizona Republic
"They are creating controversy where it doesn’t exist, perhaps for their own political purposes,” he said. "This was a roast. It was satire and it was at a private closed event, so I disagree with them."
In his Newsmax interview, Arpaio agreed.
"It’s a double standard that they always use," the sheriff said of his critics. "I support Kavanagh. He's my friend. We live in the same town. He's been good.
"I'm sure he doesn’t want to go out front too much on this — so I'll defend it."
He noted that Kavanagh's monologue lasted 20 minutes, but that the law center only posted excerpts — and that the dinner was Saturday night, but the comments were posted for the first time on Wednesday.
"Why did they put this out just before her decision?" Arpaio asked, referring to Brewer's veto. "Why did they post their video at that time? They had it since Saturday. If it was so serious, why did they wait many days to put it out?
"Is that because Kavanagh had some comments about the legislation? Is it trying to disgrace him at my expense?" he said.
Arpaio also noted that more than 600 "very conservative" people attended the dinner and "I think they were checked out when they came in. Somebody had a tape. Why did they do this and then wait so long to publicize it?"
When asked if posting the tape was part of a smear campaign because Arpaio is weighing a gubernatorial run this fall, he replied, "of course. They've been smearing me for five years. Same people.
"They're concerned about some remarks Kavanagh made," he told Newsmax. "I don't think he made any racial jokes. It got into bad words about race, but it’s a roast.
"Surely, he's not going to say I'm the greatest guy around — even though I am, and he knows it — so he has to lie a little bit.
"I'm just a little dismayed and angry, quite frankly, only because these same people are going after him, when they’ve been calling me every name in the book for years," the sheriff added. "But I guess that's OK. I guess I'm not a human or something."
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