Republican loyalty and ties to the messy past of Andrew Thomas are emerging as the top issues in the race for Maricopa County attorney.
Three GOP candidates have emerged in the special election to fill the last two years of Thomas’ term, and each of them are taking disparate campaign roads to get there. No Democrats have entered the race so far.
Interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said he is proud to stand on his record in holding the office from 1988 to 2004, but former Deputy County Attorney Bill Montgomery is attacking his Republican credentials.
The third candidate, Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn, is selling himself as the outsider with no ties to the Thomas administration.
“We need to get out of the process of being a political office and be an office that serves the people,” said Dunn, who was a finalist for the interim position after Thomas resigned April 6 to run for Arizona attorney general.
Romley has connections to the Board of Supervisors, which was locked into a power struggle with Thomas, while Montgomery said he will carry on Thomas’ policies and practices and his association with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Romley was at the helm for some of Arizona’s most famous cases, and he helped craft laws for victim rights and truth-in-sentencing. But Montgomery, who lost a bid for attorney general in 2006, has seized on one of Romley’s first acts in the interim to criticize the veteran prosecutor.
Romley announced April 22 that he asked Gov. Jan Brewer to veto S1070, the new law that requires police to inquire about a person’s immigration status when reasonable suspicion exists.
“The furor among not just Republicans but a lot of people who believe that my opponent’s call for the governor to veto SB 1070 was in complete disregard for the circumstances that Arizona faces with the federal government failing to do what it should do with illegal immigration,” said Montgomery, who resigned from his position as chief of the Maricopa County Auto Theft Bureau on April 30. “So my opponent would be better off re-registering as a Democrat and running in their primary.”
Romley said he asked for the veto because he believes the law is an unfunded mandate and could lead to civil rights violations, and he wanted to provide his input on crafting the legislation.
Attacking his 40-year loyalty to the Republican Party is laughable and destructive politics, he said.
“I think the county attorney race should be about public safety,” Romley said.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chose Romley to hold the office until the outcome of the special election, but one of the conditions was that he also run for the job.
Romley feuded with Arpaio during his years in office and he has taken many opportunities to attack and oppose Thomas over the past few years. He sided with Thomas’ 2008 Democratic opponent, Tim Nelson, and he backed Dan Saban, who switched from Republican to Democrat to run against Arpaio for Maricopa County sheriff in 2008.
While Thomas is out of the picture, Montgomery and Thomas are kindred spirits. And Arpaio, an ally of Thomas, has thrown his support behind Montgomery. Thomas and Arpaio worked together to battle illegal immigration and in investigating and prosecuting Maricopa County Supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox.
Montgomery said his relationship with Arpaio wouldn’t rival the Thomas-Arpaio alliance, but he would seek a strong partnership with the sheriff just like he would seek strong partnerships with other law enforcement leaders.
Montgomery, however, has scheduled a June 9 fundraiser that suggests a closer relationship to Arpaio than he says. The fundraiser invitation says the event will feature Arpaio and asks invitees to “come and meet your law enforcement team” and “learn how Bill Montgomery and Joe Arpaio will work together to enforce SB 1070 . . .”
Montgomery said he will follow Thomas’ criminal justice philosophy of being tough on repeat offenders, human smuggling, violent offenders and child molesters. He would also continue to charge illegal immigrants as human smuggling co-conspirators, a practice that drew criticism for Thomas, but was eventually upheld in legal challenges.
“In 16 years in office, (Romley) did nothing with illegal immigration,” Montgomery said.
Romley said he is obligated to enforce S1070, but his focus will be on organized crime, such as human smuggling rings and gunrunners.
“If I take down one criminal syndicate — I mean let’s be honest — the amount of trafficking they’re involved with would have a greater impact than what’s been done in the last three years with the other efforts,” Romley said.
Romley said he plans to reach out to the Hispanic community and he believes immigration reform should come from Washington D.C.
Dunn was involved in one of Arizona’s first illegal immigration controversies as a Chandler city councilman. In 1997, Chandler police worked with U.S. Border Patrol agents to round up more than 400 suspected illegal immigrants on Chandler streets. The “Chandler Roundup,” as it became known, drew national attention and two lawsuits that were eventually settled.
Dunn said Chandler’s recently revised immigration policy resembles in some ways S1070 in that police officers have discretion in inquiring about immigration status.
“I support SB 1070,” Dunn said.
Dunn’s last of four terms as mayor will expire in January, so he said he will continue to serve as he campaigns for county attorney.
Dunn said he plans to campaign on the need to fix the County Attorney’s Office after years of mismanagement. He is going to stress his experience of 32 years as a trial attorney and 16 years of leadership and administration of a big city.
Romley said his campaign theme will be of a proven American, proven in combat, proven prosecutor and a proven leader.
During his tenure, Romley got former Bishop Thomas O’ Brien convicted in a fatal hit-and-run collision, convicted several priests for sexual misconduct that went back decades, and he got the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix to agree to change its policies in dealing with cases of abuse.
In 1991, he released four suspects when evidence didn’t add up to corroborate their confessions to killing nine people in the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple. Two other men unassociated with the four men were eventually convicted of the crime when they were linked to the murder weapon.
Romley also made a name for himself that year when he indicted seven state legislators and 11 others in what was known as the AzScam bribery sting. In 2001, he got a manslaughter conviction of Dr. John Biskind after a botched abortion led to the death of a 32-year-old woman.
“In my previous administration, I was known for my integrity, in doing what was right, my experience for doing it right, and being successful,” he said.
Montgomery had two stints as a deputy county attorney — one each under Romley’s and Thomas’ administrations.
He returned to the office in July 2008 and was promoted to overseeing the Maricopa County Auto Theft Bureau in December. Under Romley’s administration, he prosecuted vehicular crimes, gangs and repeat offenders for more than three years and earned high praise in job evaluations, according to county records. He said he left reluctantly for private practice in 2004.
Montgomery said his formative years were filled with struggle and he was more or less homeless in the 10th grade as he lived with another family, but he excelled at school to earn a place at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served in the Persian Gulf War as a tank platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry Division clearing land mines.
Voters in Maricopa County will be able to cast their votes for county attorney in the primary election on Aug. 24 and the general election on Nov. 2.
Experience: Chandler mayor, 2002 to present; Chandler city councilman, 1994-2002; Private attorney, mostly in the practice of family law, since 1979 and currently a partner in Yarbrough, Moll and Dunn in Chandler.
Personal: Married, two grown children
Experience: Deputy county attorney, 2001-2004 and July 2008-April 30; Republican candidate for attorney general, 2006; Private practice representing crime victims and insurance defense, 2005-2008; Product marketing manager and engineer in computer industry, 1995-1997.
Military: Army officer 1989 -1995 and tank platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry Division in Persian Gulf War.
Personal: Married, two children.
Experience: Maricopa County attorney, 1989-2004; Personal adviser to U.S. secretary of veterans affairs, 2006; Special prosecutor in public corruption case against Stanley Griffis, Pinal County manager, 2007; Special adviser to Attorney General Terry Goddard, 2007; Consultant to assist the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in its conflicts with former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, 2008-2009.
Military: Marine Corps combat squad leader 1968-70. Purple Heart recipient.
Personal: Married, two grown children.