A Republican candidate seeking to unseat an incumbent from his own party brought his hard-hitting campaign to Payson last week, with an appearance before the Payson Tea Party.
Mark Brnovich, a former prosecutor, federal attorney and head of the Arizona Gaming Commission, offered both articulate charm and a fierce attack on incumbent Republican Tom Horne.
He blasted Horne for alleged campaign spending missteps that have left him facing charges of violating campaign spending and reporting rules.
The Arizona native and former military attorney also faulted Horne for not more aggressively fighting the federal government on things like the control of state lands and the implementation of federal health care reforms.
“The attorney general is responsible for wielding the shield of sovereignty to protect us against the federal government,” Brnovich told the unusually small Tea Party crowd last week at Tiny’s Restaurant. “We need to win in November and with the current attorney general getting headlines for all the wrong reasons, he won’t win.”
Horne, who has also served as Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, was elected four years ago. He’s defending himself before a state administrative law judge against charges that he improperly coordinated his campaign with an independent group that spent $400,000 on his behalf. Several days of hearings have revealed that he made several phone calls to Kathleen Winn, who was running a pro-Horne independent expenditure campaign in 2010. U.S. Supreme Court decisions now allow such independent groups to spend as much money as they want without revealing the source to support candidates, so long as they don’t coordinate their campaign with the candidate.
Horne’s attorneys maintain the contacts between Horne and Winn didn’t violate the law because although they discussed raising money for Horne they didn’t coordinate campaign strategy.
However, the spectacle of a sitting attorney general grilled in public session for possible legal infractions has given Brnovich traction.
On the Democratic side, Felecia Rotellini is running unopposed. The longtime lawyer in the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions and attorney general’s office spent 17 years prosecuting securities and investment fraud and representing state agencies. Horne beat her in 2010.
She raised more than $562,000 in 2013, according to news reports. So far she has stressed greater transparency and accountability, tougher campaign finance laws and tougher laws concerning conflicts of interest by officials.
Brnovich resigned his post as head of the Arizona Department of Gaming to clear the way for his attempt to snatch the Republican nomination away from Horne. He has worked as a Maricopa County prosecutor focusing on street gangs, an assistant U.S. attorney, and an assistant attorney general for the state. He also served as a judge advocate for the 153rd Field Artillery Brigade of the Arizona National Guard. He also worked as an attorney for the Goldwater Institute. Gov. Jan Brewer appointed him to the job as gaming director in 2009. He said during his term he increased prosecutions and fines collected while reducing staff.
Brnovich said he wanted to focus on protecting children and reforming Child Protective Services, attacking Mexican drug cartels operating in Arizona, and fighting “federal over reach” like health care reforms and environmental regulations.
Brnovich faulted Horne for ethical lapses and insisted the Democrats could win the seat if Republicans stick with the incumbent. Currently, Republicans not only have big majorities in both the House and Senate, they also hold every single statewide office.
But most of Brnovich’s specific criticisms of Horne focused on his insistence that Horne should spend more time filing lawsuits and fighting to block federal actions.
He faulted Horne for being slow to join in a brief filed by Texas and other states challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to regulate pollution from power plants.
He also criticized Horne for joining a lawsuit on the state’s behalf to stop the merger of American Airlines with US Airways. Horne opposed the merger, which would likely result in a loss of jobs and routes in Arizona. However, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also raised questions about the merger, which Brnovich said should have deterred Horne from taking the same position.
“I don’t believe that government should be involved in picking winners and losers (economically). We need to make sure we’re using the resources of the attorney general’s office properly.”
But Brnovich mostly argued that Horne’s legal problems will leave him damaged — and a Democratic challenger in a strong position.
“I know I can beat Tom Horne. Everyone is entitled to a Mulligan (a do-over shot in golf),” said Brnovich, “but seeing a sitting attorney general in front of the administrative law judge for three days with his two defense attorneys ... that’s just unacceptable.”