PHOENIX — Attorney General Tom Horne lashed out Monday night at “liberal media” and “a small, self-selected group of people” for trying to derail his re-election bid.
In a televised debate sponsored by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, Horne brushed aside questions about his legal problems, ranging from violating campaign finance laws to a hit-and-run accident. He said the only thing voters should be deciding in the Republican primary is who can get the job done.
Horne cited a number of court rulings that have gone Arizona’s way since he took office in 2011, including two Supreme Court cases he personally argued. And he pointed out the state got extra money in a nationwide settlement with major banks in a deal involving mortgage fraud.
But challenger Mark Brnovich said all that is irrelevant to his contention Horne cannot do the job. “Unfortunately, Tom has been distracted by his legal and ethical problems,” he said.
The debate was often contentious, including a spat over the extent of damage caused when Horne, driving someone else’s car , struck another vehicle.
“You won’t be truthful with yourself,” Brnovich said. “How can you be truthful with voters?”
“Your bellowing at me doesn’t change the fact that we can’t have an attorney general who can’t control his temper,” Horne responded. And he said his foe’s campaign is based entirely on attacks.
“He has no achievements that he can point to or plans for the office he can point to,” Horne said, ticking off his own court victories. By contrast, he said Brnovich has little more than “empty words or empty promises.”
Brnovich responded by listing some of his endorsements, including Gov. Jan Brewer’s. And he also cited his time as both a state and federal prosecutor as well as director of the Arizona Department of Gaming.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Felecia Rotellini in November.
Horne has been hit with a number of accusations, dating to the 2010 election, when, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk concluded, he illegally coordinated spending in that race with what was supposed to be an independent campaign committee. She directed him to refund $400,000 in improper contributions. However, an administrative law judge has said there was insufficient evidence to prove coordination.
More recently, Horne has been accused by a former staffer of using state employees and resources to run his current campaign.
He was also being followed by the FBI in 2012 when he was the driver in a minor hit-and-run accident. He pleaded no contest paid $582 in fines and surcharges.
Horne dismissed the questions about those events as part of a campaign against him by people unhappy that, in winning the 2010 race, he took the office out of Democratic hands. And that resulted in all statewide offices being held by Republicans.
“And the liberal press couldn’t stand that,” he said. “And they engaged in ceaseless attacks on me, big headlines.”
Brnovich said that’s not an answer. “We want an attorney general with integrity and character, someone that could do their best to serve all of Arizonans,” he said.
Brnovich also pointed out that Horne was once a registered Democrat, “working with liberals like Walter Mondale” while campaigning for Ronald Reagan. Horne responded that many people switched parties — including Reagan .
Horne pointed out that, for all the claims that he’s unelectable, he has raised far more money than his foes. Recent reports have Horne with contributions of $417,254, versus $127,961 for Brnovich, though $150,000 of Horne’s money came from a relative.
Brnovich dismissed that as irrelevant.