Legislator's comments at closed event seen in video released by civil-rights group.
PHOENIX — Civil-rights and community leaders are criticizing a state lawmaker after they say he used jokes about Latinos, Muslims and Asians to roast Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio last weekend at a gathering of conservatives.
State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is seen making the off-color jokes in excerpts from a YouTube video released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights organization.
"I'm not the federal monitor. How many Hispanics did you pull over on the way over here, Arpaio?" Kavanagh joked to loud applause during a roast of Arpaio at the Western Conservative Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center on Saturday.
Kavanagh was referring to the monitor appointed by a federal judge last year to oversee the Sheriff's Office after determining that deputies engaged in discriminatory racial profiling of Latinos during the office's immigration sweeps and traffic stops.
Several civil-rights and community leaders quickly condemned Kavanagh's jokes, calling them inappropriate for an elected official.
"It's disgusting," said Danny Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer and civil-rights leader. "Any jokes about race, specifically as it relates to something as serious as racial profiling, is not a joke to the Latino community. It's not a joke to the federal judge who specifically found that (Arpaio's sweeps) was racial profiling."
Kavanagh dismissed the criticism.
"They are creating controversy where it doesn't exist, perhaps for their own political purposes," he said. "This was a roast. It was satire and it was at a private closed event, so I disagree with them."
Kavanagh championed Arizona's controversial immigration-enforcement law SB 1070, as well as SB 1062, the highly charged right-to-refuse-service bill. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the latter on Wednesday.
Josh Glasstetter, SPLC's campaign director, said the recording was made by an undercover monitor.
Glasstetter said "risque" and "non-PC comments" are expected at roasts, but Kavanagh's jokes "went beyond the pale" because he is an elected official.
Kavanagh said he did not participate in the roast as an elected official. He said the jokes are not an indication of how he feels about minorities.
"I was roasting Sheriff Arpaio," he said. "That was parody on him. That should be quite obvious ..."
In one joke, Kavanagh said the federal monitor had already ordered Arpaio's deputies to learn to give Miranda rights in English, not only Spanish. And "the sign over the booking door will have to have 'Welcome' and not just 'Bienvenido,' " Kavanagh said.
In another joke, Kavanagh said he "scoffed" at concerns that SB 1062 would cause discrimination based on religion.
"Until tonight, when a Muslim waiter serving up here, walked up to Sheriff Joe, (and) wouldn't give him his dinner, because he said, 'I don't serve swine.' "
In another joke about Arpaio's age, Kavanagh feigned surprise that Arpaio served in the Korean War, not the Spanish-American War.
"All these years, I figured he was rounding up Hispanics because he had a grudge against the Spanish-American War," Kavanagh said. "So, if you were in the Korean War, how come you are not rounding up Asians?"
Imraan Sibbiqi, chairman of the Council for American-Islamic Relations-Arizona, said the jokes were in bad taste.
"He was making fun of the religious-freedom law as if the concern is that Muslims would be the ones exercising this type of discrimination, whereas everybody knows what the crux is of why the law was introduced," Sibbiqi said.
Sibbiqi said many Muslims live in Fountain Hills.
"So part of (his) constituency is being alienated as well," Sibbiqi said.