Editor's Note: You might know Bun B as the Texas-based rapper, professor, and activist who's one half of the legendary Houston duo UGK. He's also VICE's newest political correspondent, reporting on the ground from the campaign trail of the strangest presidential election in recent memory.
Fuck man, Arizona is beautiful. The blues are so fucking blue, and it takes a while to find a cloud in the sky. If you picked up a rock and threw in any direction, you're likely to hit a rock. Watching the sun set behind the mountains at night is simply breathtaking—which makes the ugliness of the politics here even more shocking. If I lived here, I'd be a Hare Krishna, it's so goddamn peaceful. But all you have to do is scratch the surface to see the discrimination and harassment that happens on a daily basis.
Elections were in Arizona on Tuesday, and I wanted to check the temperature of the state. It's been in the 90s, so we are at the sun's mercy. The first stop is Donald Trump's campaign headquarters in Mesa, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Phoenix. Unsurprisingly, Donald is leading in the state, so I want to check out his operations here before they close down and move on to the next round.
All photos by Mark Peterman
The ride out is majestic. The Superstitions Mountain Range provides a brief moment of beauty as I ready myself for another interaction—or more likely, confrontation—with Trump's minions. We arrive at the address and find a tax service office that's been converted into Trump HQ. We walk in and let them know we're with the press, and are told to talk to Trump's Arizona campaign manager. He isn't in, and his assistant—who looks like she just ate Mama June—tells us we have to leave. Press aren't welcome here. She has a real John Hughes librarian vibe going on—makes the average lunch lady look cordial. Fuck it. We thank her for her time and bounce.
The next stop is Fountain Hills, Arizona, the Phoenix suburb where Sheriff Hoe—sorry, I mean Joe—makes his home. Our photographer, Mark, is a local and suggests we take the back way in, so the ride is even more scenic. Stephen Jackson played for the Phoenix Suns a few years back, and I used to visit regularly, so I'm used to the scenery, but this is different. I'm closer to the mountains than I've ever bee, and the lush green bushes nestled against the red clay of the McDowell Mountains at high noon is almost indescribable. Most of the 20-minute drive is spent in silence as I take in the beauty of this place.
Fountain Hills is an affluent, mostly white suburb along the Verde River. The landscaped neighborhoods are impeccable, with pueblo-style mini-mansions as far as the eye can see. It was also the site of Trump's last rally in the Phoenix metro area, where protesters blocked the streets, holding up traffic for miles to try to prevent the Republican frontrunner from taking the stage. Sheriff Joe put an end to that, of course.
I want to get a feel for the sheriff's neighbors, so we stop by the Fountain Hills polling station. Voters in Arizona don't have to cast ballots in their precinct, but we're told that the residents of Fountain Hills are older, and more likely to vote near their homes. I don't know about the latter part, but the old people thing is dead on. I'm pretty sure eight out of 10 people that I see walking into the Fountain Hills Community Center polling place remember watching Lawrence Welk on TV before syndication. Hell, they probably remember life before TV itself.
There's a guy out front taking signatures for Arizona Senator John McCain, who's running for reelection again in 2016. Election rules require him to stand 75 feet away from the entrance, and the people in charge here are strict about enforcing that rule. I watch for a few minutes to see who signs and who doesn't, to try and get a sense of how people might be voting here today. We move closer to take a picture, but are told that we too have to comply with the 75-foot rule. I'm getting a lot of double takes, and I can't tell if its my color or my age that gives away the fact that I'm not a local. Mark, the photographer, says its my age. I'm good with that. At 43, I don't get suspicious looks for my youth very often.
I spot a lady in a leather cowboy hat painted in red, white, and blue go inside, and wait outside to speak with her after she votes. After 20 minutes go by, though, we start to suspect that the line is longer inside than we can see from 75 feet away. Another woman comes out five minutes after entering, and tells us they told her the wait would be an hour and a half, so she's planning to come back later.
Other than people like her, who decide they can't wait, no one we see go into the community center comes back out. It's like some weird indoctrination center scene from a 1950s sci-fi film. Apparently, this was the case all across Maricopa County, where the local government cut the number of polling stations down to 60 this year to save money. That's 70 percent fewer polling stations than the county had in 2012, to give you some context.
The people who do come out of the Fountain Hills Community Center don't seem like they want to talk. I do manage to talk to one guy, who says he voted for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. He's originally from Wisconsin, and says he doesn't like protesters based on his experiences in Madison. He attended the Trump rally in Fountain Hills last weekend, and tells us that while the people there were almost exclusively over 50, the protesters were mostly young. He adds that he likes some things about Trump, and some about Cruz, but that neither was a clear choice. It wasn't until he saw Trump give the same speech that he'd seen on TV several times that this guy decided to throw in for Cruz.
He also tells me he'd like to punch all protestors in the face. Why these old white guys wanna punch people so badly is curious to me. Do they yearn for the old days when you could put a foreigner or a person of color in check without reprimand? Is that the America they want to bring back? Move along, pops. Your applesauce is getting cold. Or warm. I don't eat that shit, so I have no idea what temperature it should be.
Once we've wrapped out of Fountain Hills, our next stop is in Sun City West, a retirement community where residents are required to be over 55. When we arrive at the one polling station there, I feel like I've traveled into an episode of Golden Girls. The people here are elderly—old doesn't do them justice. They make the voters in Fountain Hills look like young whippersnappers. Almost every car has a bumper sticker from some branch of the armed forces, and most have one touting membership in the MIA. There's a lot of Semper Fi and POW-MIA signage going on here.
The line to vote extends along the entire sidewalk, and a lot of the senior citizens have brought their own stools and chairs, prepared for the long wait. You'd think the swimming pool from Cocoon was inside. Then I see something interesting at the other end of the complex: A dedicated parking spot for members of Sheriff Joe's Posse. Wow—this posse shit is real. When I walk over to investigate, I see that the parking spot is in front of the headquarters for the sheriff's Sun City Posse. A sign on the darkened glass front door says the business hours are 8 AM to 4PM Monday through... who gives a fuck.
A poster out front claims the posse saves Maricopa County $3.6 million in taxpayer dollars each year. Conveniently, it leaves out any mention of how much Sheriff Joe has cost the county in lawsuits. Inside the parking garage are actual county sheriff vehicles. The idea of a posse having the same powers as police officers, but none of the moral responsibility we expect from those who protect the community is terrifying. Sure, most of what the posse does is help neighbors out with downed trees and basement flooding, but that's all they should be doing. These people should not be in a position to question someone's citizenship, least of all have the right to make an arrest.
Having deputized citizens riding around town, pretending to be cops, is not just archaic, it's dangerous. This isn't the Wild West. But that's the America that guys like Trump and Joe Arpaio want to bring back. An America where the sheriff had more power than the mayor because he had the guns. But this isn't Gunsmoke and Sheriff Joe ain't Marshal Matt Dillon. It's like Mayberry with a bunch of angry and emboldened Barney Fifes and no Sheriff Taylor. Actually, it's more like Hazzard County, and Sheriff Joe is Rosco P. Coltrane, armed, dangerous, and after those damn Duke boys. Except in Arizona, the Duke boys are Mexicans.
By the end of the day, Trump, a.k.a. Boss Hogg, had won all of Arizona's delegates, just as expected, even as people continued to wait in hours-long lines to vote. Regardless of the sham of representative democracy, his posse just keeps getting bigger. Fuck that. I'll set up a website for the anti-posse swear-ins later. But first, get me the fuck out of Maricopa County.