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Tim Steller's opinion: In Tucson decision, Brnovich keeps using office for political purposes
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Tim Steller's opinion: In Tucson decision, Brnovich keeps using office for political purposes

Tim Steller, opinion columnist for the Arizona Daily Star

The key thing to remember with every action that Attorney General Mark Brnovich takes these days is how it affects his political future.

You and I should look at his actions that way, because that is the way he appears to look at everything — even potential issues of life and death, such as vaccines.

His office issued an opinion Tuesday saying the city of Tucson's new policy, mandating vaccines for employees, violates state law. If you look closely at it and other recent actions by the attorney general, you'll see his political ambitions consistently at play. 

Brnovich is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, seeking to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat, next year. To get to that point, he has to run as far to the right as he can, to win the votes of Trump-supporting Republican primary voters who might question his Trumpist credentials.

After all, Brnovich certified Arizona's 2020 general election, which was an unforgivable sin in Trump's eyes. The former president called out Brnovich in May, saying the attorney general "is nowhere to be found" in pursuing Trump's election-fraud fantasies.

Brnovich actually did the right thing in certifying the election, but now he has to make up for it, and we're all paying the price.

After all, this is the attorney general who, in the last couple of months has:

• Used his position in Arizona to file a legal brief against a concealed-carry law in New York state

• Filed a brief supporting a new law in Georgia restricting mail-in voting

• Challenged the federal government's right to say that pandemic aid cannot be given away as tax cuts

• Said that Maricopa County must comply with a subpoena issued by a handful of state senators or lose state funds

• Said private employers can mandate vaccines but must have a religious exemption that covers employees who have a moral or ethical belief about vaccines

The priority, as you can see, is to do whatever makes Mark Brnovich look like a good choice for Senate to pro-Trump Republican voters. Given those last two examples, though, it was obvious how Brnovich would come down on the Tucson mandate when a legislator from Mesa, GOP Rep. Kelly Townsend, demanded the investigation. The only question was how he would get there. 

What was perhaps a little surprising is that Brnovich's office concluded Tucson's mandate, passed on Aug. 14, violates the law, even while acknowledging the law does not go into effect until Sept. 29. 

"It will be cold comfort to city employees that state law unambiguously protects them after they were required to obtain a vaccine that they would not otherwise have obtained in the first place," the opinion reads. "Any harm at that point would have already occurred."

This is a real stretch. Imagine that, instead of a ban on vaccine mandates, we're talking about a ban on selling semi-automatic rifles that goes into effect Sept. 29. Are we to believe Brnovich's office would have said that selling such a gun before the ban goes into effect violates state law?

Of course not. The ethics here are situational and bend to the political demands of the attorney general. 

This is typical of the filings Brnovich's hatchet man, Solicitor General Brunn "Beau" Roysden III, delivers for the boss.

Remember the lawsuit Brnovich trumpeted in April, accusing the Biden administration of violating federal environmental laws by not completing the border wall? Yes, the argument was that not completing the environmentally catastrophic border wall violated the National Environmental Protection Act, which the Trump administration had waived to build the border wall. This was legal trolling at best, on the taxpayer dime, to benefit Brnovich.

Beau Roysden filed it. 

Go back years and you will find Roysden behind some outlandish actions coming from Brnovich's office. Remember Prop. 127, an initiative mandating that utilities get 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030? 

That was on the ballot in 2018, and Roysden inserted words into the ballot description that supporters said hurt its chances. He did so unilaterally, against the wishes of the Republican secretary of state's elections director.

But I'm dismayed to see all this is still not as low as Brnovich is willing to stoop to bolster his political prospects. Asked about getting the COVID-19 vaccine by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, the attorney general said, "I would encourage people to get the vaccine."

But he declined to say whether he himself got the vaccine, saying these are "personal medical decisions."

Sadly, he's wrong; they have become highly politicized medical decisions thanks to people like him and his ruthless pursuit of higher office.

Tim Steller is an opinion columnist. A 25-year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his conclusions. Contact him at tsteller@tucson.com or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


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