Andrew Thomas accused Tom Horne of being a con artist in his opening statement, and the debate never got more civil than that.
The first televised debate between the two Republican candidates for attorney general, hosted by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission at KAET’s Horizon studio, was replete with the now-familiar accusations and denunciations that have characterized their campaigns thus far. Thomas, however, brought out the new weapon in his arsenal – revelations that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission imposed a lifetime trading ban on Horne in 1973 for violations committed by an investment firm he ran.
“It’s important that we have an attorney general who has character and integrity, and there’s a clear difference in the candidates as far as that goes,” Thomas said. “This is a confessed con artist.”
Horne, who has made Thomas’s character and integrity a focal point of his campaign, said Thomas was using a 40-year-old incident to distract from the far more current legal issues Thomas is facing over his six-year tenure as Maricopa County attorney. He cited an ongoing investigation against Thomas by the State Bar of Arizona, reported investigations by the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, and judge’s ruling that said Thomas used politically motivated prosecutions to settle scores with political enemies.
“Why would he try to deflect attention to something that happened 40 years ago?” Horne asked in his opening statement. “Because as we speak he’s under investigation by the FBI and indictment may well follow. And as we speak he is under investigation by the state bar, and a disbarment may well follow.”
Thomas said the public deserved answers from Horne, who has served as superintendent of public instruction since 2003. Horne said the SEC ban was the result of accounting errors caused by unreliable computers. And he said his false statements on annual reports to the Arizona Corporation Commission that he had never been part of a company that declared bankruptcy – T.C. Horne & Co., the company that earned him the SEC sanctions, went bankrupt in 1970 – was an oversight on routine paperwork.
“It was bad bookkeeping,” Horne said, noting that he founded the company while he was in college. “I got in over my head, I admit.”
Thomas touted his experience as a prosecutor, saying that Horne should not be attorney general because he has no law enforcement background. But nearly every question from debate moderator Ted Simons, regardless of the topic, ended the same way – with Thomas attacking Horne for the SEC ban and his past life as a Democrat, and Horne attacking Thomas for alleged abuses of power. The two spent much of the debate interrupting each other, talking over each other and occasionally badgering each other.
The acrimony between Horne and Thomas has been apparent to anyone who has followed the campaign – or attended their first debate, a 90-minute verbal slugfest in early June – but their feud was on full display for the entire state to see during the televised debate.
“I’m giving you my votes now,” Horne said as he recounted a legislative record that he said refutes Thomas’ allegations, while Thomas repeatedly asked whether Horne was pro-life of pro-choice. “I’m not interrupting you, Andrew.”
The incident was one of many in which Horne and Thomas attempted to talk over each other and cut each other off.
“Let me finish. You wouldn’t answer my question when I interrupted, and you still haven’t,” Thomas said when Horne objected to Thomas’ characterization of him as a “political con artist.”
The candidates were only a few minutes past their opening statements when Simons broke up their verbal sparring, telling Horne and Thomas, “Let’s get back to some questions here from the host.”
Horne questioned what fate would befall the Republican Party if Thomas became its nominee, only to be disbarred, which would disqualify him from being attorney general. Horne accused Thomas of prosecuting judges for ruling against him without any evidence, and said all 11 cases he filed against judges and politicians were dismissed.
Thomas said he and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had plenty of evidence in their cases against the judges, and said he hoped the investigations would continue even though he was removed from the case.
Horne’s accusations, statements and rebuttals often ended with the same warning – voters should not trust Thomas.
“If he’s the nominee, the liberal Democrat is going to automatically get the job,” Horne said of a Democrat being able to beat Thomas in the general election. “He charges people without any basis. You cannot trust Andrew Thomas.”
Thomas frequently mentioned Horne’s past as a Democrat – he became a Republican before running for the Legislature in 1996 – and said Horne voted for pro-choice bills and against school tuition tax credits. Horne said Thomas was distorting his legislative record and said he voted against partial birth abortions and for tuition tax credits. When asked several times by Thomas whether he was pro-life or pro-choice, Horne simply said he would enforce all abortion laws on Arizona’s books if elected.
“He was a financial con artist years ago and he’s a political con artist now,” Thomas said.
When accused by Thomas of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants, Horne said Thomas was misrepresenting statements he made in a 2007 newspaper article and said the amnesty proposal he spoke about was not his plan. He said his conversion to Republicanism was sincere and noted that many prominent conservatives, including iconic former President Ronald Reagan, switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP late in life.
“I have very good company – Ronald Reagan, Phil Graham, Bob Stump, Bill Bennett,” Horne said. “The mark of the intelligent person is that you don’t stop learning.”
As in their previous debate, both candidates pledged to endorse the other if they lost the Aug. 24 primary. Neither, however, sounded enthusiastic.
“I believe when you run in a primary there’s a covenant there,” Horne said.
“I’m a loyal Republican, and I agree with what Tom said – when you enter into a Republican primary you should support the winner and not be a sore loser,” Thomas said after the debate.