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UpClose with Bill Montgomery

(Photo by Gary Grado/Arizona Capitol Times)

(Photo by Gary Grado/Arizona Capitol Times)

Bill Montgomery is taking his second stab at elective office, and for the second time he’s going up against an Arizona political fixture. In 2006, he lost the attorney general’s race to Terry Goddard. This time he is running for Maricopa County attorney against Rick Romley, who held the office for 16 years and has continued to work behind the scenes in Arizona politics since he left office in 2004. Earlier this year, Romley was appointed to serve as interim Maricopa County attorney.

Montgomery says he believes he can beat Romley by painting the veteran prosecutor as a RINO (Republican in name only) who is out-dated and out-of-touch in his approach to running the office and fighting illegal immigration.

Montgomery was a deputy county attorney on two occasions, prosecuting vehicular crimes such as felony DUIs, manslaughter and aggravated assault. His other assignments have included prosecuting repeat offenders and gang members. His last assignment was supervising the Auto Theft Bureau.

Montgomery spoke July 20 about his campaign, illegal immigration, growing up in poverty, graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point and serving in the Gulf War.

You ran for attorney general in 2006 and lost. When did you decide to run for county attorney?

I didn’t even really think about doing it until toward the latter half of 2008. I know Andy Thomas opened up his exploratory committee for attorney general on Sept. 9, and I then filed mine Sept. 10 for county attorney, more or less just to have sort of an official statement that, OK, if Andy does decide to run for attorney general I will seriously look at running for county attorney.

This time, what are you going to do differently that you think will lead you to victory?

Well, one big difference is that we didn’t have to start from scratch. I had relationships already among Republicans throughout Maricopa County, and a lot of Republican voters were already familiar with me, and those within the Republican Party at the county leadership level knew me from my time as general counsel for the county Republican Party.

So what I was able to do was start off with a solid base of support and then from there sort of expand and start reaching out to other areas that I didn’t have the opportunity to work with when I was running for attorney general because that was statewide. Since this is limited to Maricopa County we’ve been able to maximize our effort much more, because geographically it’s much more focused. Given that this race is going to be decided in the primary, the scope is much more focused.

If you get elected, what’s your first order of business on your first day in office?

The first day of office is to communicate to everyone that we’re not going to have another purge. I think the political actions of coming into office and getting rid of people based upon relative degrees of loyalty are going to end. My first job is to communicate stability and to communicate professionalism and that we’re going to focus on what our jobs are and what the taxpayers expect us to be doing.

Would you agree that immigration is a key component of your platform?

Actually, I would term it this way … it’s not a key ingredient of my platform, it is a key component of any criminal justice policy approach in Maricopa County because of the role that issue plays here and the impact that illegal immigration has had on crime in Maricopa County.

I recognize the impact illegal immigration has, and so recognizing that and taking it into account in developing how we’re going to approach crime in Maricopa County is where I see that coming together in a relationship in that regard versus just saying we’re going to focus on illegal immigration and see what results we get in fighting crime.

Your alliance with Joe Arpaio seems to make some people uncomfortable because it reminds them of Andrew Thomas. How is your relationship with Arpaio going to be different than his relationship with Andrew Thomas?

Well first, rather than an alliance — I think that’s a loaded word — I’d prefer to say it’s a partnership anticipating working together as two elected law enforcement officials in Maricopa County.

I come at it from a standpoint of saying, “Look, the county attorney and the county sheriff should be working together to enforce all of our laws in a full and fair manner.”

My relationship with Joe will necessarily be different because I’m not Andrew Thomas. I have a different experience set that I bring to the office. I have a career prosecutor’s background in dealing with other law enforcement officials, so at least to that extent I bring something different to the table than what Andy did in his relationship with the sheriff.

I know that in working with the sheriff going forward as I have over the last couple of months I’ve emphasized with him I’m looking forward to a law enforcement partnership without sacrificing my independence as a prosecutor because that’s what our criminal justice system demands, but at the same time I’m not looking for conflict with him in order to build my own political profile.

What are your most memorable cases?

One of the earliest ones involved a vehicular aggravated assault. There was a fellow bicycling on his way to work at the Scottsdale Princess Resort and he was traveling on the right side of the fog line out of the way of traffic and was hit by a car. It left him paralyzed, quadriplegic.

We were able to identify the defendant. Unfortunately, we could not establish his entire drinking history so all we were able to do was charge him with leaving the scene of an injury accident that he had caused. He had multiple misdemeanor arrests and a couple convictions; like seven maybe for DUI.

I went and visited the victim, who was in a long-term rehabilitation center in north Phoenix. His name was Jimmy. I wanted to get his input and his assessment of what happened, and I remember his words to me were that he was determined to walk again and he would not accept his circumstance. I saw it as a very strong outlook and those were my remarks to the court, too, that Jimmy wasn’t going to stand for that and we shouldn’t stand for that kind of conduct either.

What made the case even more compelling from a justice standpoint was Jimmy was living on his own here in Arizona. He had moved down here from Washington because he wanted to be independent. Jimmy emotionally was a 10-year-old. He was riding a bicycle because he couldn’t get a driver’s license. He rode his bicycle roughly 15 miles each way to go to work. It was the kind of work he could do, so he did it and he did it well.

The defendant wound up being sentenced to seven years in prison, which matched my recommendation.

Your RINO hunter ad, I was wondering how well it has been received or has there been anyone who’s taken offense to the depiction of shooting a Rick Romley likeness with a dart?

Because it’s a cartoon, there hasn’t been any criticism at all. In fact, the majority of comments I’ve received is that it was a funny way to make an important in the Republican primary without it being a personal attack.

Any response from Rick on it?

No, he didn’t mention anything in the last debate and we don’t talk outside of that.

You’ve told me before about your childhood and your difficulties. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you overcame those difficulties?

One of the things I like to remind people is circumstances are what we deal with, they don’t dictate who you are what you can become. And the circumstances I had to deal with growing up, and my family did, we were raised by a single mom just south of south-central L.A. I grew up in Paramount, which is right next to Compton and Watts, which unfortunately is known more for gang violence there and gangster rappers than anything.

There were periods of time where the only source of income we had was welfare. I went to six different elementary schools by the time I started the sixth grade and moved about 13 different times by the time I graduated from high school, and there was an instance in which we were homeless. I started the 10th grade, and my mom and brother and sister were living with other friends and I was living with my best friend and his family because my mom wanted me to keep going to the same high school given how many different schools I’d gone to growing up.

I still remember that first day of school. I’m standing in line to get my class schedule, and I’m standing with my feet together because my shoes had split over the previous summer and I had sewn them up by hand and so I didn’t want anybody to see the thread on the inside of my shoes.

And I’m standing there kind of hunched down because my shirt was about an inch too far above my pants and my pants were an inch too far above my shoes and I got to thinking, looking around, I’m never going to compete for the best dressed, I’ll lose any contest regarding whose family has more money, but I realized that when you sit down to take a test it doesn’t ask what you’re wearing. The tests don’t ask how much does your family make before you get into the subject matter, and so I resolved I would work real hard in class and then work hard on the football field, where effort is what mattered most.

You graduated West Point and served in the Gulf War, so tell us a little bit about your military experience.

My first assignment out of West Point after I graduated the officer basic course at Fort Knox was at Fort Hood in Texas, and my first six months was pretty much spent getting equipment ready for mothballs because the unit I was assigned to was one of the first units to draw down at the end of the Cold War, and I wasn’t sure if I’d stay in the Army past my five-year commitment because I wasn’t receiving the training I thought I needed in order to lead other lieutenants and soldiers at a point in time when I had a chance to command.

About three months after that we were alerted for operation Desert Shield — the old maxim “be careful what you wish for.” I was part of the convoy that took all of the equipment down to the port there in Texas to upload onto Navy ships to send over. I’ll never forget driving from Fort Hood to the port because from the point we hit the freeway the roads were lined with American flags and every place we had a maintenance halt, there were — I’m having a flashback, it gives me chills — there were people who showed up, fellow Americans, with food, drinks, parents brought their kids out just to say, “These are the guys who are fighting for us.”

Desert Shield, the entire time there was a lot of uncertainty and the only source of news we had at the time was CNN and Armed Forces Radio. There was one pundit after another who kept predicting we were going to wind up with tens if not hundreds of thousands of casualties because we were going up against a large army, the Republican Guard, that had all these years of battle experience in the war against Iran, and our equipment wasn’t that great and the Army hadn’t been tested in the field since Vietnam.

I remember my soldiers asking me, “How are we going to do this, should we even be here?” My response then was, “Well, you know what, we should be here. We’re here in defense of what it is to be American and we’re going to stick together, we’re going to do what we’ve been trained to do, we’re going to fight like a team, and we’re not going to quit until we get the job done.” That’s exactly what we did and we got through Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Up Closer

What’s your most prized possession?

My children.

What is your favorite quote?

Tell people what to do, not how to do it, and get out of their way and they’ll surprise you with their ingenuity. That’s from (Gen. George) Patton.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I enjoy a good bottle of wine.

You’ve got two small children, so which children’s books or television programs do you like and which ones make you cringe?

I like watching “Dora” with my daughter and showing my kids just how much Spanish I do know. They always get a kick out of it when I know what some of the words are. And some of the shows that absolutely make me cringe? “Teletubbies.” I cannot stand “Teletubbies.” It’s just too weird.

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