Newly minted attorney general candidate Mark Brnovich hit the campaign trail and laid out his case for why GOP voters should choose him over Tom Horne, bashing the incumbent attorney general for legal and ethical problems that have plagued him and alleging that Horne hasn’t done enough to defend conservative principles.
At an Oct. 7 meeting of the Arizona Project, a north Phoenix-based Tea Party organization, Brnovich urged about two dozen conservative activists to support him over Horne for both philosophical and political reasons. Brnovich resigned from his position as director of the Arizona Department of Gaming on Sept. 20 and filed to run for attorney general several days later.
Philosophically, he said Horne has insufficiently fought federal overreach and violations of states’ rights on issues such as environmental regulations and the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. On the political side, Brnovich said they should support him because he’s the only Republican candidate who can win the general election.
Brnovich said attorney general candidate Felecia Rotellini and other Democrats are hoping that Horne will be the nominee.
“I’m not going to comment or get into people’s personal lives or what they have done or what they haven’t done. But the reality is we need an attorney general who has worked with the FBI to prosecute illegal activity, versus an attorney general who’s been investigated by the FBI for criminal activity,” Brnovich said, referring to campaign finance allegations stemming from a joint investigation by the FBI and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Brnovich said his background makes him exceptionally qualified for the position. He has served as a county, state and federal prosecutor, ran the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Constitutional Government, and worked as a lobbyist for the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America.
He also repeatedly challenged Horne’s conservative credentials. Brnovich said Horne should have been more aggressive in challenging Obamacare and federal overreach, such as controversial Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station.
Brnovich questioned why Horne didn’t opine on whether Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan was subject to a constitutional provision requiring a two-thirds vote for all tax increases, chastised him for his agency’s defense of the Arizona Board of Cosmetology in a lawsuit by a Gilbert spa owner, and several times reminded the crowd that Horne used to be a Democrat.
“We need an attorney general that’s going to be more aggressive in keeping the federal government off our backs,” Brnovich said. “I think the attorney general needs to be much more aggressive in fighting federal overreach.”
Brnovich said his top three priorities as attorney general would be cracking down on gangs, especially drug and human smugglers from south of the border; fighting federal overreach; and defending vulnerable people such as children and the elderly.
Prior to his 2010 election, the grassroots conservatives were largely hostile to Horne. But he has flexed his conservative muscles since taking over the Attorney General’s Office, defending Arizona’s voter identification laws and challenging municipal ordinances on civil unions for gay couples. The day of the meeting, he announced that Arizona would create a separate voting system in which people who register to vote using federal forms – which, unlike state forms, don’t require proof of citizenship – could vote only in federal elections. An attendee at the meeting praised Horne for personally arguing in defense of the voter identification laws at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham noted that Horne joined a multistate lawsuit against the EPA regarding its new environmental rules for the Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired plants. Grisham said Brnovich missed the mark on other criticisms as well.
Under state law, she said, the Attorney General’s Office is required to defend agencies such as the Board of Cosmetology. In that case, the Goldwater Institute, Brnovich’s former employer, represented a woman who offered a spa treatment in which fish nibble dead skin off of people’s feet.
Brnovich criticized Horne for saying he didn’t issue an opinion on Medicaid expansion because no one asked him to. But Grisham said state law dictates that the Attorney General’s Office only offer opinions when asked by lawmakers or other elected officials.
Grisham, who attended the Arizona Project meeting, said Brnovich’s lack of understanding about the Attorney General’s Office shows that he isn’t qualified for the office.
“I think that he’s not ready to run in an election of this caliber and he’s certainly not ready to be the attorney general of the state of Arizona,” she said. “That just shows this is kind of bush league right now and he doesn’t understand the role of the attorney general.”
But ultimately it’s Horne’s legal and ethical issues that led some Republicans to seek a challenger in the GOP primary. The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office is investigating the campaign finance allegations against Horne. He pleaded no contest to leaving the scene after backing into a car in a downtown Phoenix parking garage. He is facing a lawsuit in federal court from an employee who alleges that Horne retaliated against her for her political affiliations and for reporting the campaign finance allegations to the FBI. And an FBI report accused him of having an extramarital affair with an employee whom he gave a six-figure job.
Grisham said Horne would be exonerated of the allegations against him.
“There’s going to be answers for all of that. They’re going to come out. The work he does is what should be front and center. And that stands alone as impeccable,” she said.