Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff pardoned by President Donald Trump, visited Johnson County this week to raise money for a sheriff candidate, and to speak to high school students about the dangers of illicit drugs.
Trump pardoned Arpaio in August 2017 after he was convicted of criminal contempt for his treatment of undocumented immigrants. Arpaio has since been an avid and vocal supporter of the president, and of hard-line policies on crime and immigration.
At a private fundraiser outside Paintsville, Arpaio said he was saddened to hear about the impacts of drug use in a rural community often noted for its high rate of overdose deaths.
“If it can hit this part of the country, which it has, where are we going with the drug problem?” Arpaio said. He called his trip to Johnson County “a wake-up call.”
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Arpaio’s trip was facilitated by John Finney, a Johnson County businessman and long-time fundraiser for Republican candidates. Finney hosted the fundraiser with Arpaio at his Paintsville home on behalf of Doug Saylor, the county’s jailer and a Republican candidate for sheriff.
Arpaio said he admired Saylor’s ethics and character, and thinks Saylor’s experience as jailer will translate well into his potential role as sheriff.
“I like what he stands for,” Arpaio said. “I’m sure he’ll try to do the right thing.”
The current sheriff, Democrat Dwayne Price, said he thinks Finney is supporting his opponent in retaliation for a DUI charge Finney received in 2011.
According to court records, Finney admitted to drinking and driving at the time. A breathalyzer showed his blood-alchohol content at .143. The limit is .08.
Finney also received a DUI in July 2017, according to court records.
Finney denied that his support for Saylor has anything to do with either DUI charge, saying he often helps raise money for Republicans candidates.
“I do several fundraisers here for Republican candidates,” Finney said.
His support for Saylor is no different than his support for other candidates, Finney said, adding that Price’s allegations are “inappropriate and unfortunate.”
“I had no agenda other than to help our area and our region,” Finney said. “There’s a drug problem in America, there’s a drug problem in our region. I wanted to bring in a speaker to speak to that effect. While he was here, I had a fundraiser for a Republican candidate, because that’s what I do.”
On Thursday, Arpaio spoke to students at Johnson Central High School, telling them to stay away from illegal drugs and to strive to reach their full potential.
“He told them they could all be president,” Finney said.
Saylor said he was not present for Arpaio’s speech at the high school, but supported the message and was grateful to Arpaio for visiting the county.
“If it helps one, two, three kids, then it’s worth it,” Saylor said. “I think him being here was a shot in the arm for the area.”