If their first debate was a preview of things to come, Republican voters can expect political fistfights and bloodshed from Tom Horne and Andrew Thomas.
A lot of questions about a lot of issues were asked of the two Republican attorney general candidates, but answers took a backseat for most of the 90-minuted debate. Instead, Horne and Thomas repeatedly fell back on their stock accusations against each other – Horne is a liberal, pro-amnesty abortion supporter, and Thomas is a dishonest prosecutor who used his office to maliciously attack political enemies.
Horne and Thomas met for their first debate June 3 at Fox Sports Grill in Scottsdale. The tightly packed venue filled quickly and debate organizers turned away a number of people at the door.
The Tea Party Patriots of Scottsdale, which organized the debate, sought a balanced crowd, asking people as they came which candidate they supported to ensure a somewhat even number.
For most of debate, the two traded barbs over the more controversial aspects of their pasts, especially Thomas’s prosecutions against Maricopa County supervisors, four judges and a state representative.
“He didn’t have one scintilla of evidence,” Horne said. “He hasn’t won a single one of those cases.”
Horne, who has served as superintendent of public instruction since 2003, frequently referenced the prosecutions and a Tucson judge’s ruling that they were politically motivated. Arizona, he said, cannot afford to elect an attorney general who will use his position to settle political vendettas.
“You know what you do when you disagree with a judge? You appeal. You don‘t make up a charge of bribery or extortion in order to try to intimidate judges,” Horne said. “They know when they rule against the county attorney, they’re taking a risk that they’re going to be personally investigated. If a prosecutor can intimidate judges, no one in this room has any constitutional rights.”
Thomas spent much of the night defending himself from Horne’s shots, but often turned around his responses into attacks against Horne. He focused heavily on Horne’s pre-Legislature years, when he was a registered Democrat, and swiped at his opponent for votes against school tuition tax credits and abortion, as well as an alleged record in support of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Horne, in turn, accused Thomas of distorting his record.
“I’m not repackaging myself as a conservative in an election year. I bear the scars of the liberal media elites and the special interests that have targeted me for years because of my principles,” Thomas said.
The prosecutions, Thomas said, were valid, and he insisted that the cases aren’t necessarily over. He said he was prohibited from discussing the evidence in the cases, and that the Gila and Yavapai county attorneys offices are still looking into some of the allegations. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk is appealing the dismissal of one of his cases against Supervisor Don Stapley, Thomas said, even though she “doesn’t even like me” and “hates the sheriff.”
“Despite Tom’s ignorance of the law, it is not only my right but my duty to prosecute county officials who commit criminal acts. Nobody is above the law in this country. And they can smear me all they want, but I will go to my grave believing that,” Thomas said.
In response to Horne’s assertion that Thomas launched baseless prosecutions against four respected judges, Thomas described one as a leftist activist, and accused Horne of cavorting with liberals.
“Calling these people respected judges – Ken Fields is a left-wing activist, one of the judges. These are the people he associates with, he drinks Chablis with. Tom Horne is a liberal Democrat,” Thomas said. “The reality is I’m running against four Democrats.”
There was little disagreement between the two on their belief that the state must take a harder line on illegal immigration, and touted their credentials on the issue. Thomas, an icon to anti-illegal immigration activists for his aggressive tactics as Maricopa County attorney, said he would apply his and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s controversial use of Arizona’s human smuggling law on a statewide level.
Horne trumpeted his highly publicized ethnic studies bill from the recently ended legislative session, which banned “divisive” programs like the La Raza Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District. He touted his opposition to bilingual education in Arizona schools, which led to a long-running lawsuit he won earlier this year, and his decision to fine the Ajo Unified School District $1.3 million for busing in students from across the Mexican border.
Thomas said he applauded Horne’s ethnic studies bill, but accused him of ignoring years of pleas from Sen. Russell Pearce to look into the Ajo issue and waiting until campaign season to finally take action.
In response to a question about the issue, Thomas said he would challenge a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision that required states to provide K-12 education to illegal immigrants – initially referring to it as a ruling from the Attorney General’s Office – though he did not say how that could be done.
Horne responded that the ruling was the law of the land and must be respected, one of several times the candidates questioned each other’s legal acumen.
“That is not a decision of the Attorney General’s Office. That is a United States Supreme Court decision. If you’re running for attorney general, you have to recognize the law as it is, not what you would like it to be,” Horne said.