TUCSON, Ariz. — Until this weekend, the face of Arizona law enforcement has been Republican Joe Arpaio, the tough-talking sheriff in Maricopa County known for housing jail inmates in tents, having them wear pink underwear and using posses of volunteers to help round up illegal immigrants.

But, hours after an assailant shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six bystanders, there was a new Arizona sheriff in town. His name is Clarence W. Dupnik. He’s a Democrat and a fan of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. And when he linked the attack to harsh conservative rhetoric, he drew cheers from some and criticism from others.

Dupnik, who turns 75 today, has spent 30 years as the top law-enforcement officer in Arizona’s second most populous county. But just as Tucson is constantly overshadowed by the more conservative megalopolis of Maricopa County and Phoenix to the north, Dupnik has been overshadowed by the more media-hungry Arpaio.

No more. On Saturday Dupnik, a friend of Giffords and of a federal judge killed in the attack, spoke during a nationally televised news conference:

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Dupnik hasn’t backed down from his remarks, even though no ties have publicly surfaced between the alleged gunman and conservative political groups.


In an interview Sunday, Dupnik had the air of a man who had reached his limits and couldn’t remain quiet any longer.

“They don’t like to see us trying to tone that down,” Dupnik said, referring to criticism of his call for civility. “Most of those people would wish I would never say anything like that.”

Dupnik’s comments cheered many residents of this relatively liberal town, at least liberal by Arizona standards.

“He’s a very private guy; he’s a very closed guy,” former Democratic Sen. Dennis DeConcini said of Dupnik, a longtime friend. “I’m so glad it’s someone like that who did it, who’s not a publicity-seeker.”

But it also horrified many conservatives. “I was surprised to see him jump to political conclusions that have no basis in reality,” said John Munger, a former state Republican Party chairman and a lawyer here.

Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl on Sunday said the comments had no place in a law-enforcement briefing.


Joe Cesare, a Tucson developer and Democrat who has served as Dupnik’s finance chairman during political campaigns, attributed the statements to the sheriff’s exhaustion and the heartbreak of the day.

“As a friend of his, I wish he hadn’t made those statements because they don’t necessarily go along with what’s there,” Cesare said Monday. “He dislikes anything that’s far right or far left. This is a middle-of-the-road kind of guy.”

Friends say Dupnik has long been privately troubled by the angry turn in political speech over recent years. DeConcini said he had spoken with Dupnik recently about the angry rhetoric coming from the conservative media – specifically Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck, who once linked President Obama to Nazis.

Rudy Espino, political science professor at Arizona State University, noted that the views of Pima County officials such as Dupnik don’t always have a big impact on state politics. That’s because two-thirds of the population lives in Maricopa County.


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