Arizona is back in the national spotlight just one day after governor Jan Brewer vetoed the controversial senate bill 1062, which would have allowed business owners to deny service to gays and lesbians because of religious beliefs.
The latest drama to plague the state is based on comments a lawmaker made during a roast that are now being called into question.
Representative John Kavanagh spoke at a roast for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Some critics say his jokes crossed the line from funny to downright offensive.
"He was just roasting me, he can't be nice when you roast the sheriff... I know him personally, I know he is not a racist, I know he is very funny, and he is willing sometimes to speak out."
- Sheriff Joe Arpaio
With the sheriff seated just next to the state rep, the jokes started off pretty tame.
"Did you know Sheriff Arpaio prays every night that he'll go prematurely bald so he can look as cool as Sheriff Babeu," said Kavanagh.
Our cameras didn't capture the entire roast but The Southern Poverty Law Center received audio clips they say are racially charged.
The recording provided by the SPLC contained the following two clips:
"Sheriff Joe is the kind of guy you have got to love as long as you have papers."
"Going out with sheriff Joe is always an adventure.. Because we go into a restaurant most of the wait staff and cooks jump out the back window and when they don't I never know what the hell is in my food."
During most of the jokes the audience and Arpaio can be heard laughing. On Thursday, as the tapes were released, the sheriff defended Rep. Kavanagh, his longtime friend.
"He was just roasting me, he can't be nice when you roast the sheriff... I know him personally, I know he is not a racist, I know he is very funny, and he is willing sometimes to speak out," said Sheriff Arpaio.
In a statement, the state senator blasted the SPLC and called its criticism politically motivated. He said the jokes at the roast were just that, jokes. Rep. John Kavanagh provided FOX10 with the following complete statement on the issue.
"The jokes I made at the Sheriff Joe Arpaio Roast, at his invitation, were satirical comedy. The jokes were not directed at minority group members but at the target of the roast – Sheriff Arpaio. The jokes were jabs against the sheriff based upon allegations of his department's engaging in racial profiling.
The Southern Poverty Law Center edited out selected portions of a much longer roast on many topics not related to racial profiling. The humor was typical of roasts and had I made the same jokes against Sheriff Arpaio at their annual dinner, I suspect that they would have been laughing as much as this audience laughed. Likewise, had these jokes been made on a TV comedy or variety show, there would also be no controversy.
I have never hesitated to appear on news shows to discuss policy issues because that is part of my job. But this is not a policy issue. This is a personal attack upon me by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which appears to be politically motivated probably due to my support of SB1070."