Eyebrows shot up with last weekend’s press conference that brought together Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley on the right, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon on the left, and several other prominent public officials in the middle, to endorse conservative Republican Andrew Thomas to succeed Romley.
But there was neither mystery nor undue concern among those who are plugged into what’s going on with criminal justice in the Valley. Simply put, Democrat Don Harris is not well thought of in Arizona’s law enforcement community.
As former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods said during the press conference, Harris botched one of the most important cases ever in Maricopa County, the murder of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles, by speculating wildly to the media during his short stint as county attorney in 1976-77. Then-Gov. Raul Castro quickly moved the case from Harris’ office to then-Attorney General Bruce Babbitt’s.
Sure, Thomas, the most conservative of the six Republicans in the primary, may trigger some heartburn among Democrats and moderate Republicans. Liberals have taken aim at Harvard graduate Thomas’ get-tough-on-crime book, “The Sacking of America,” as extremist and even racist.
But the worst that can be said truthfully about Thomas is he isn’t politically correct. And that may be a plus. Comedian Bill Cosby has faced similar criticism for pointing out the obvious: America’s dramatic increase in crime during the 1970s and ’80s was fostered in large part by a welfare system that created a massive underclass of predominantly inner-city minorities.
Thomas has drawn criticism for his pledge to curb illegal immigration, but during a Tribune forum he dispelled concerns of selective prosecution by stating he would prosecute repeat offenders who are in this country illegally to the full extent of the law. In context with Thomas’ pledge to prosecute all serious offenders vigorously, what’s the problem?
For faint-hearted liberals who have trouble believing criminals are fully responsible for their crimes, a little historical perspective is in order. The criticism we’re hearing today about Thomas echoes what we heard 16 years ago against Rick Romley. Too conservative. Too unforgiving of the downtrodden lower class that spawns most of the criminal element.
Yet Romley quickly proved himself a superb county prosecutor — precisely because he has viewed his job as protecting law-abiding citizens from criminals, and because he has taken that job very seriously.
If Thomas keeps his promises and his zeal to make the Valley a safer place, and surrounds himself with top-notch prosecutorial talent, he will perform admirably as Romley’s successor.