The Fresno Republican Party’s annual fundraising dinner, which this year features controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has been moved to Sunnyside Events in southeast Fresno.
Fresno County Republican Party Chairman Fred Vanderhoof said his organization decided to move the event because of concerns about tie-ups on a main traffic hub such as the area near TorNino’s. Sunnyside Events, at 5707 E. Balch Ave. in Fresno, is in the Sunnyside Health & Tennis Club complex just north of Kings Canyon Road and east of Clovis Avenue.
The Fresno County Republican Party has doubled down on its speaker choice, noting that “bullying coming from the left” and “scare tactics” have elevated the event to not only a military/law enforcement/Second Amendment celebration, but also an opportunity for Republicans to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech.
Tickets are $70 for individuals and $600 for a table of 10, with VIP packages ranging up to $1,500 for 10 preferred seats, a special reception and a photo with Arpaio.
The 85-year-old lawman has spent decades in the national spotlight for his treatment of jail inmates and undocumented people. Some consider him “America’s toughest sheriff,” while others have denounced his tactics as inhuman, unethical or illegal.
Earlier this year, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in an Arizona federal court for failing to follow a 2011 judicial order to stop detaining undocumented people solely because they were undocumented. On Aug. 25, President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio.
The choice of Arpaio as a guest of honor has clearly had a polarizing effect on prominent local Republicans. Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and Councilman Garry Bredefeld, for example, said they would not attend due to Arpaio.
Earlier this month, Vanderhoof said ticket sales up to that point had improved over previous years. In a news release issued Tuesday morning, he called it nearly sold-out.
Local political activists plan to protest outside the event. Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said officers will be present to make sure the demonstration stays peaceful.
Connie Martinez, 66, who lives in the Sunnyside Glen apartments next door to the venue, said Arpaio was wrong to target undocumented residents.
“Everybody has a right to be here as long as you are not a criminal,” she said. “The world belongs to God. I don’t care what race you are.”
But Martin Ulloa, 54, also a resident of the apartment complex, said “I have nothing against him,” adding that if demonstrators show up to protest Arpaio, “that’s good.”
Construction worker Tory Arguello, 56, of Fresno, said he is glad Arpaio’s speaking in Fresno and would go see him if he could afford it.
“He was a fantastic sheriff, he is a great American,” Arguello said while walking by near Sunnyside Events. “We need some control of the borders.”
But Leigh Manfredo, 48, of Fresno, said Arpaio’s tactics, such as having inmates wear pink clothing, were wrong.
“Why invite him?” she said as she pumped gas from a service station near Sunnyside Events. “Why would we want anyone like that in office?”
Agricultural packaging salesman Eli Spencer of Fresno said he’s neither for nor against Arpaio. “He’s allowed to speak his mind, I think it’s fine,” he said.
Ruben Perea of Fresno, owner of a pool cleaning service, said he’s “disappointed” that Republicans in Fresno invited Arpaio as their guest speaker.
“I think it’s unfortunate it’s happening,” Perea said. “He’s a little take-off from Donald Trump.”