A prominent Fresno Republican and political donor criticized the local party over hosting controversial law enforcement figure Joe Arpaio last month.

Darius Assemi, president and CEO of Granville Homes, said the local GOP risks becoming irrelevant because of the Arpaio event.

Arpaio appeared at the county party’s fundraiser, which celebrated the First and Second Amendments, on Sept. 29  Local media reported that hundreds of people demonstrated outside while a sold-out crowd of about 300 attended the function at Sunnyside Events in southeast Fresno.

“I love that about our country; that you can come in and say what’s on your mind, exercise your First Amendment right,” Assemi told an audience Oct. 2 at a Fresno Rotary luncheon. “If you actually want to be relevant and get anything accomplished as a party, that activity (inviting a polarizing speaker) is very divisive.

“What is that going to get us as a Republican party? What are we going to accomplish? We are already becoming irrelevant in California. Soon, we will become irrelevant in our community.”

Assemi is known in Fresno circles as a philanthropist and someone with a strong interest in politics. He has publicly said that good public policy is the best form of philanthropy. Assemi and his family have consistently donated to candidates in local, state and federal elections.

Fresno County GOP Defends Arpaio’s Appearance

Mark Johnson, the first vice chairman of the Fresno County Republican Party, responded to Assemi’s remarks by saying that Arpaio was invited more than a year ago  — before his contempt charge and subsequent conviction.

“Our First Amendment rights are just as important as the opposition’s,” Johnson said. “This was a speaker we arranged a year ago. We should not be told that he cannot come and speak.”

The former sheriff of Maricopa County (Arizona) became known for his hardline law enforcement tactics. These included erecting tent cities in the Arizona sun, distributing pink underwear to inmates, and forming chain gangs. Much scrutinized for his tactics on immigration enforcement, a court held Arpaio in contempt for failing to obey an order to stop practices deemed as racial profiling.

Assemi’s criticism of the event echoed remarks made by other Republicans in the Valley and throughout California.

“It’s an unmitigated disaster,” Mike Madrid told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s beyond belief that a man convicted of racial profiling is held up as an iconic figure in the party of Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.”

The Times described Madrid is a Republican political consultant who has worked for more than two decades to garner the Latino vote for the GOP, primarily in California.

In addition, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld, both Republicans, refused to attend the fundraiser because Arpaio was speaking there.

Arpaio Gives Credence to Discredited Birther Claims

During a session with the media before his speech, Arpaio repeated a much-discredited theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Johnson additionally defended the invitation, saying Arpaio had a great story to tell. He noted that even more people could have attended if the event had been held at a bigger venue. As for the protests and police protection, Johnson said “Our people were well behaved. It was high security prompted by threats from the opposition. It was a major security exercise for us.”

While Arpaio awaited sentencing for his conviction, President Donald Trump pardoned him in August.

(Editor’s Note: Assemi is the publisher of GV Wire.) 

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