County attorney candidate Bill Montgomery convinced Republican voters he is their man, ending a short-lived return to the office for Rick Romley.
Montgomery, who was unsuccessful in his 2006 bid for attorney general, has a solid lead with 597 of 1,142 precincts reporting and Romley has conceded.
“The numbers are substantial,” Romley said. “I’ve recognized he has won.”
Romley served as county attorney from 1989 to 2004 before being appointed on an interim basis in April.
Montgomery said the endorsement of Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a huge boost to his campaign.
“There are people who specifically wanted to find someone who could work with him and partner with him on behalf of Maricopa County,” Montgomery said. “Certainly that’s what voters will get with me.”
Montgomery must now face Libertarian Michael Kielsky in a Nov. 2 special election that was necessary after the resignation of Andrew Thomas, who is running for attorney general. The winner will finish Thomas’ term, which ends in 2012.
The special election seems to be a sure thing for Montgomery, who has the backing of the Republican Party, growing name recognition and more money to spend than Kielsky.
Kielsky doesn’t intend to spend more than $500 on the race and he won’t accept any contributions, according to campaign finance reports.
The race was marked by attack ads and a war of words. Romley not only had to contend with Montgomery, but also the Republican establishment, which didn’t take kindly to his associations with Democrats, his endorsements of Democratic candidates, and his criticisms of SB1070.
Even Sheriff Joe Arpaio jumped into the fray by attacking Romley in a TV commercial and direct mail piece that was paid for by Arpaio’s 2012 re-election campaign.
A special counsel hired by the county to review complaints Romley filed determined Aug. 24 that the commercial was legal but a mailer Arpaio sent attacking Romley was not.
Romley, said the advertisements were a factor in the campaign and election laws have to allow for quicker resolution of complaints.
“Harm was done,” he said.
Montgomery’s victory signals a return to policies closer in line with Thomas’. Romley, who accepted the role of interim county attorney upon Thomas’ resignation in April, had restructured the office’s approach to battling illegal immigration, focusing on busting large cartels and organizations that deal in human smuggling, drug smuggling and gun running.
Thomas and Arpaio worked more or less as partners in the illegal immigration front, with Arpaio investigating businesses and raiding them on allegations of violating state laws against knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and targeting loads of illegal immigrants for arrest during crime sweeps of specified areas.
The raids on businesses never yielded charges against the owners, but Thomas would prosecute the workers on charges such as forgery and identification theft in connection with their using fake IDs to get employment.
And Thomas would prosecute illegal immigrants who were swept up in smuggling busts as co-conspirators to human smuggling, a practice that drew the ire of immigrant activists.
Montgomery has said in interviews that he will continue the policies of the previous administration and work with Arpaio as a partner in fighting illegal immigration.