Top Cop

Terry Goddard is proud of his record as attorney general; Bill Montgomery thinks he can do better

Democrat Terry Goddard says he's seeking re-election as Arizona's attorney general based on a successful four years since he was elected. Republican challenger Bill Montgomery says he's also in the race because of Goddard's record--he thinks he can do better.

"I intend to lead and take action," Montgomery said when asked why people should vote for him. "I don't care about the next office," he added, suggesting that Goddard is using his present position as a stepping stone to eventually run for governor.

Responding to the same question, Goddard replied: "I've done a great job in making families safer, being aggressive about border security, going after big and small (operations) that abuse consumers, and fighting methamphetamine, particularly in Pima County."

Both candidates support the passage of Proposition 301, which would "make a person ineligible for mandatory probation" if they are convicted of possessing or using meth. They also both back having the state automatically remove Social Security numbers from driver's licenses--but they see things differently on almost everything else, beginning with Arizona's crime statistics.

Montgomery, formerly with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, stated at a recent debate: "Arizona had the worst crime rate in the nation for (the last) six years in a row." Countering, Goddard said: "The crime rate has come down each of the last four years."

Goddard rejects Montgomery's assertion that he hasn't sufficiently combated crime. "We've had an awful lot of prosecutions," he said in a later telephone interview, "and been aggressive. But Montgomery thinks his jurisdiction (as attorney general) would cover more than Arizona."

To reduce crime, Montgomery proposes spotlighting illegal immigration and drug smuggling. Concerning the former, he believes in filing charges against both smugglers and their clients by creating an Illegal Alien Prosecution Unit within the AG's office. To combat drug smuggling, he wants to seek additional state funding to help local law-enforcement agencies.

"I'll push the (illegal immigration) fight more toward the border," Montgomery pledged, and "seek a criminal trespass statute" to prosecute those crossing the border illegally.

At the debate, Goddard asked: "Why waste time prosecuting smugglees? We should focus on the coyotes (drug smugglers)."

During the interview, Goddard stressed his office is doing a lot about illegal immigration. He called Montgomery's approach to the issue not impractical, believing some of his opponent's suggestions fall under federal responsibility. "We need to fulfill our part," Goddard said.

Turning to consumer protection, the incumbent called it "one of the most serious obligations of the attorney general." Goddard said he wants the Legislature to adopt tougher laws to protect against breaches of a company's security system if the company possesses personal information. Calling Arizona's current identity theft laws "pretty weak," Goddard would like to see people quickly informed if their personal information is stolen from a company. He also wants consumers to be able to instantly freeze their credit if their ID is swiped.

From his perspective, Montgomery hopes the penalty for identity theft is changed from a class 4 to a class 3 felony. "Stealing a car is class 3," he points out, and believes ID theft should be treated similarly.

Montgomery also wants to see stiffer penalties for methamphetamine users, suggesting a minimum of eight months in prison for the third violation. As for those who manufacture, distribute or traffic the devastating drug, he said: "We should look at mandatory prison time for the first offense, with a life sentence for the second."

Highlighting his focus on the meth scourge, Goddard said his office has aggressively gone after methamphetamine makers, sellers and users. "I've fought crime, especially the danger of methamphetamine, by stopping meth cooks from getting the materials needed to make the meth."

Prior to last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Arizonans needed to show identification at their polling places in November, the issue had been up in the air. But Goddard's office successfully fought a lower court decision which would have prevented the requirement from being enforced.

At the debate, Montgomery criticized Goddard for too narrowly defining the voter-approved proposition which authorized the ID requirement, emphasizing that the attorney general personally opposed the proposal. In a phone interview, Montgomery also accused Goddard of being detached from his staff, a situation Montgomery claims has led to high turnover with many experienced prosecutors departing the office.

"They're not leaving for more money, but because of the environment," Montgomery said, claiming he has spoken to current employees about the situation. "I can provide the mission the attorney general's office needs and get more (financial) resources."

While Montgomery suggested he would try to get funding to hire more prosecutors so more cases could be pursued, Goddard responded that he did seek more money for the office from the Legislature.

"You just can't sit back and claim to be doing a good job," Montgomery said of Goddard. "His rhetoric doesn't match his record. ... I'll provide strong leadership and take decisive action."

For his part, Goddard concluded at the debate: "I'm proud of the progress (we've made). We've focused on meth, border security, consumer protection and safety for children on the Internet."