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Arizona AG Candidates focus on attacks, not issues

by Alia Beard Rau for The Arizona Republic:

In a rapid-fire live TV debate, the two candidates for the state's top legal post spent half an hour hurling barbs back and forth, accusing each other of being too political and not having the right background for the job. Republican Mark Brnovich and Democrat Felecia Rotellini spent almost no time talking about what they would do if elected attorney general in November

"It's time to put the people first and return the Attorney General's Office to its core mission," Rotellini said during the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission debate televised on Channel 8 (KAET). "It's not a political job. It's a public safety job. I'll rise above partisan politics and be an independent watchdog for the people of Arizona."

She then several times accused Brnovich of being an "anti-choice" ideologue beholden to "dark money."

Brnovich, a former Arizona gaming director and assistant U.S. attorney, noted this is the first office he has run for, and is focused not on politics but on keeping Arizona families safe.

"So many people want to tear folks down rather than bring them together," he said.

He then criticized Rotellini, a former civil and criminal prosecutor in the Attorney General's Office, for taking donations from individuals connected to the private prison industry and accused her of profiting from helping the banks she used to regulate. He alleged mortgage fraud increased during her time overseeing the Arizona Banking Department.

Rotellini attacked Brnovich for the time he spent lobbying for the private prison industry, mentioning his work to kill a 2006 bill that would have forbidden private prisons from bringing convicted murderers and sex offenders into Arizona to house.

Her campaign released an ad Tuesday that attacks Brnovich for the legislation, and appears to blame the death of the bill for a 2010 prison escape that led to a couple being murdered. The ad fails to mention that Arizona Department of Corrections records appear to show the three escapees, while being held in a private prison, were convicted of crimes in Arizona and so the legislation would not have applied.

"He thought it was better to kill a piece of legislation that would bring killers and rapists into the state of Arizona, and now he says he wants to make Arizona safer?" she asked.

Brnovich defended the industry.

"I have spent most of my career putting people in prison," he said. "We have 7,000 inmates in private facilities that are Arizona felons. If legislatures don't want to build more prisons, we have to have some place to incarcerate people."

Brnovich then criticized Rotellini for supporting the Obama administration. He said he's the only candidate who will push back against the federal government.

Rotellini said she will go up against the federal government on what she describes as "draconian" EPA regulations, as well as some regulations of U.S. waterways.

In the few minutes the two did talk issues, they ultimately agreed.

Both said the next attorney general needs to focus on going after drug cartels and smugglers, including using forfeiture laws to target their finances. Both said they would defend Arizona law, regardless of personal opinions.

When asked, Rotellini said if a version of the controversial religion law Senate Bill 1062 were passed in the future, she would defend it.

"But I will go on record again that it is unconstitutional," she said. "It is not in the best interest of Arizona."

Brnovich avoided answering whether he supported or opposed such legislation, saying he would defend it if it became law. When pushed after the debate whether he thought it was constitutional, he said it was "irrelevant."