The Amazing Race

Three Democrats and two Republicans want to be your next Arizona attorney general

On the Republican side of the state Attorney General's race, you have two choices: a former Maricopa County attorney currently being investigated for unethical conduct, and an outgoing state superintendent of public instruction best known locally for his fight against ethnic-studies classes.

In March, the State Bar of Arizona asked the Arizona Supreme Court to appoint a special investigator to look into accusations of misconduct against Andrew Thomas, after a judge accused him of investigating Maricopa County supervisors for political gain.

Thomas, who resigned in April to run for Attorney General, is also the subject of an investigation by the FBI. His campaign did not return e-mail requests and calls from the Tucson Weekly.

However, Tom Horne, the other Republican in the race, did talk to us. Horne served in the state Legislature from 1996 to 2000, and has served two terms as Arizona superintendent of public instruction.

"I think the main thing is avoiding the abuse of power, unchecked governmental power," Horne said about the attorney general's office—in an obvious dig at his opponent.

Thomas is also known for teaming up with Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff, on efforts to hunt down illegal immigrants.

Horne told the Weekly that while conservative Republicans are concerned about immigration, they are also "very concerned about the Constitution. ... Thomas has been found by a court to abuse the power of government for personal political purposes, and that is illegal, and it is totally opposed to conservative principles."

Horne, who was born in Canada and became a U.S. citizen as a child, championed HB 2281, a new law that bans certain ethnic-studies classes. School districts found in violation could face a 10 percent cut in state education funding.

In June, The Arizona Republic reported that on documents filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission from 1997 to 2000 for Horne's law firm, Horne checked "no" when asked whether any partner had been involved in a business that went bankrupt. However, Horne was president of T.C. Horne and Co., an investment firm that went bankrupt in 1970. Horne received a lifetime trading ban from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Horne said the "error" was made public when he first ran for superintendent of public instruction, "so it's nothing new. A Thomas consultant brought it to the attention of (The Arizona) Republic. Back in 2002, it had no effect. Normal people aren't concerned with something that happened 40 years ago; they are concerned with what's happening now."

Horne's current deputy, Margaret Dugan, is representing the GOP in the race for the superintendent seat. Horne said if Dugan is elected, "which I hope she is, she will enforce the (ethnic-studies) law, and if I am attorney general, I will give her the legal help she needs to enforce the law."

On the Democratic side of the race, all three candidates have worked in the state AG's office.

Felecia Rotellini joined the AG's office in 1992. In 2006, Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed Rotellini to head the Department of Financial Institutions. In August 2009, she resigned to work for the Phoenix law firm Zwillinger and Greek PC.

Rotellini, who did not return calls for this story, joined the other two candidates, David Lujan and Vince Rabago, in a Clean Elections debate on June 23. Sparks flew when Rotellini accused Rabago of failing to obtain a court order to stop deceptive payday-lender practices before resigning as assistant attorney general to run for office.

Legal documents provided by Rabago's campaign, however, show that Rabago—who filed a lawsuit in December 2009 against payday-lender QuikCash—did indeed obtain an injunction against the payday lender before he resigned.

During the debate, Rabago pointed out that Rotellini's law firm represents banks, which he questioned, since she had previously oversaw state-chartered banks as the head of the DFI. Rotellini responded that Rabago didn't understand the difference between the small banks she represented and large national banks.

Born in Cochise County and raised in Douglas, Rabago began his law career as a state prosecutor in California before returning to Arizona to raise his children in Tucson. In 2007, Rabago was elected Pima County Democratic Party chairman.

"I think my interest in fraud and public advocacy came from my family life in Douglas. Back then, the town was like the TV show Mayberry R.F.D. ... But eventually it changed with that drug traffic," which fueled his desire to go into criminal justice, he said.

Rabago said a lack of name recognition could be an issue in Maricopa County, but that in six counties including and surrounding Pima County, voters know him from his work with the AG's office, the Democratic Party and as a political commentator on Arizona Illustrated.

"I think those things have helped my name recognition. Elections are different now. It's all about turnout and getting voters out there," Rabago said.

Rabago, however, could be behind in getting those voters to the polls. His campaign didn't turn in the required donations to qualify for Clean Elections funding until July 24, and he may not receive funds until early voting for the Aug. 24 primary has been ongoing for several weeks.

David Lujan said that since he was able to qualify for Clean Elections earlier, he feels he has an advantage. (Rotellini did not participate in Clean Elections.)

"I believe I'll have what it takes to get out the voters," Lujan said.

Lujan has had to explain why he ran as a Republican write-in candidate for a school board seat in Phoenix in 2002. He was first elected to the state Legislature in 2004 as a Democrat.

"I registered as a Republican when I worked as a page in the state Capitol. It was my first time, and someone recommended I go Republican," Lujan said.

He said he later realized he aligned with Democrats and changed his registration.

"It's never really been an issue," Lujan said. "I think what voters care about now is the experience and who is going to advocate for them."

Lujan worked as a prosecutor as an assistant AG, and now works as a staff attorney for Defenders of Children, a nonprofit that works with abuse victims.

"In this position, you are the top law-enforcement person in the state, but really you're an advocate for the people in the state," Lujan said. "In a down economy, ID theft, mortgage fraud and business fraud increase. Voters need someone to watch out for them."

Update: After our deadline for this story, Felecia Rotellini got back to us with some e-mailed answers to questions. Here are those answers.

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