The race to become Arizona's next attorney general has turned into a slugfest where the two Republican candidates have set up websites devoted exclusively to savaging each other.
The plans that Republicans and Democrats in the Aug. 24 primaries have pushed to confront Arizona's border woes, fight crime and protect consumers have been overshadowed by nastiness, most of which comes from GOP candidates Andrew Thomas, former Maricopa County Attorney, and Tom Horne, Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In short, Thomas calls Horne a bona fide con man with flimsy conservative credentials and little respect for the law, while Horne charges Thomas with wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in baseless prosecutions against his political enemies.
"It has become very personal," said Fred Solop, chairman of Northern Arizona University's politics and international affairs department. "In some ways, the nastiness of the race has brought both candidates down in the dirt."
The tone of the Democrats in the primary — former state financial regulator Felecia Rotellini, state Rep. David Lujan and former state prosecutor Vince Rabago — is much more subdued.
The two Republican candidates cited fighting crime and cracking down on illegal immigration as their priorities, while the Democrats said consumer protection and attacking immigrant and drug smuggling networks are top issues.
Thomas served more than five years as Maricopa County's top prosecutor before resigning in April to run for attorney general, a post he sought but lost in 2002. His tenure as county attorney was marked by his efforts to confront illegal immigration, prosecute metro Phoenix's Baseline Killer and Serial Shooter cases and pursue criminal cases against county officials.
Horne, the state's school chief since 2003, has advocated for more accountability in the schools. He helped Republican legislative leaders in a legal and political dispute over Arizona's school programs for students learning English, and pushed for a bill targeting a school district's ethnic studies program.
Thomas pointed out that Horne, who operated an investment firm while in law school in the early 1970s, lost his license to sell securities for failing to keep accurate books and not keeping enough capital on hand for purchases and sales. Thomas then teed off on Horne's failure to disclose in 1997-2000 corporation filings for his law firm that his investment business from his law school days had gone bankrupt.
Horne's criticism of Thomas centers on criminal cases that, as county attorney, he had filed against two county supervisors and a judge. Those prosecutions were dismissed after a court in one case concluded that Thomas had prosecuted an official for political gain. Horne rejects Thomas' claim that he was trying to smoke out corruption in county government.
The rancor was on full display in a June 22 television debate.
In one exchange, Thomas rejected Horne's explanation that the failure of his investment business was a 40-year-old student error.
"You admitted violating federal securities laws. You admitted it," Thomas said, banging his hand repeatedly on the table. "That's a fact, and you are still lying about it."
Horne zeroed in on an investigation on behalf of the State Bar of Arizona into Thomas' ethical conduct.
"He'll go after people who are against him," Horne said. "I hope there's nobody in the audience who has ever made a mistake on their mortgage application, because if you criticize him, he'll try to make a crime out of something that's not a crime."
In comparison, the Democrats have taken relatively mild swipes at each other and their GOP opponents.
Rotellini, who worked earlier in her career as a white-collar prosecutor for the attorney general's office, served as Arizona's superintendent of financial institutions from 2006-2009. She pushed mandatory licensing for mortgage officers. And she also won a settlement from a money transfer service on allegations that some of the company's outlets in Arizona failed to comply with reporting laws intended to help combat money laundering and illegal immigration.
Lujan, the top Democratic leader in the state House, worked on education funding issues in his earlier job as a lawyer for the attorney general's office. He advocates for abused children in his current job as a lawyer for a group that protects kids.
Rabago has worked as a criminal prosecutor and consumer protection attorney for the Arizona Attorney General's Office for more than seven years and touts his experience of having grown up in the border city of Douglas as useful in confronting the state's border issues.
Rotellini was criticized by Rabago for accepting campaign contributions from the banking industry, a business she used to regulate. She said the contributions won't get the banking interests any favors from her.
Lujan has been called out by Rabago for missing the vote on Arizona's new immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, and by Rotellini for opposing the state's 5-year-old immigrant smuggling law.
Lujan said he missed the vote because of family obligations when the new law came up for a vote and that he voted against the smuggling law because he thought it would lead to abuses by authorities.
On the Net:
Felecia Rotellini: http://feleciaforarizona.com/
David Lujan: http://www.davidlujan.com/newlaunch/
Vince Rabago: http://www.vince4az.com/