January 1, 2005
With the New Year come new faces in state and local government — generally a politically invigorating process that is a vital part of our democratic republican form of government.
Perhaps the most important change taking place in Valley governance is Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley's retirement as be passes a very large torch to Andrew Thomas.
Romley leaves office after 16 impressive years of service as the people's hard-driving lawyer determined to put as many miscreants as possible behind bars for as long as possible. And he's put a lot of them away.
For that feat he is praised by those among us who value the rule of law, but criticized by others who have viewed him as overzealous and some laws as flawed.
Well, Rick Romley indeed is zealous. And some laws indeed are flawed.
But we don't hire public prosecutors to be wishy-washy about taking on lawbreakers, nor is it their job to decide which laws are worthy of enforcement. Romley long has espoused a belief that if a law is on the books, you enforce it. Even controversial ones, such as drug laws that have come under increasing criticism — some of it justifiable — that they target “victimless” offenses and actually exacerbate lawlessness.
Without firm, fair enforcement, respect for the rule of law erodes.
So the Valley's law-abiding residents owe Romley a debt of gratitude for his service and dedication. Not that his public service is over. We fully expect him to surface in a year or so as a candidate for governor or Congress. He has far too much talent and fight left in him to retreat to a corner to fish and write memoirs. We look forward to his re-emergence.
Meanwhile, we welcome Andrew Thomas to the office. Thomas shares some key qualities with Romley, including an almost missionary zeal and a conservative ideological foundation that emphasizes respect for the rule of law.
Like Romley, Thomas also has been criticized for being too ideological and zealous. His book, “Crime and the Sacking of America,” has raised eyebrows — especially suggestions that public stocks and other forms of punishment deemed “barbaric” be brought back. Thomas says he's tempered some of those views, but not his determination to kick the Valley's war on crime up another notch.
Thomas says he will pursue violent criminals as vigorously as did Romley. He's determined to lock up more child molesters for longer periods.
And he thinks so-called property criminals — mainly thieves — have gotten off too easily for too long. In particular he wants to target car thieves, who seldom draw jail time. Thomas hopes the Legislature will toughen the statute to give first-time car thieves a few months in jail to rethink their career path.
We hope lawmakers oblige. Thomas vows that if they do he'll make a serious dent in the Valley's astronomical vehicle-theft rate — among the highest in the nation.
So thank you, Rick Romley, for your years of public service, and best wishes as you ponder the future. And Godspeed, Andrew Thomas, as you take over this vitally important office. May the New Year be good to you both.