Arizona AG faces off with Democratic foe in TV debate
PHOENIX — Attorney General Mark Brnovich found himself defending the decisions he made to challenge various federal laws, challenges that his Democratic foe said Wednesday worked against the interests of average Arizonans.
During a televised debate on KAET-TV, January Contreras lashed out at Brnovich for working to overturn a decision by the Obama administration to put about a million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon off limits to mining. Federal appellate judges did not agree with him.
Brnovich has had no better luck in joining with other Republican attorneys general to overturn the Affordable Care Act and its mandate to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions.
And Brnovich also sided with Americans for Prosperity in challenging a California law that would require the organization, part of the Koch brothers network, to disclose its donors.
All that, Contreras charged, showed that Brnovich was more interested during his four years as attorney general in pursuing cases that helped special interests than those that help average Arizonans.
Brnovich shot back that Contreras, a former assistant attorney general under Democrat Janet Napolitano, would follow her own political agenda if she was in charge of the office.
His prime example is the challenge his office filed against the Maricopa community colleges over the decision to charge resident tuition to “dreamers.’’
“I would not have litigated that case,’’ Contreras conceded. She said that’s because she believed that they were entitled to instate tuition if they met other Arizona residency requirements.
Contreras pointed out that those accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were entitled by the federal government to not only remain but also to work.
But Brnovich said that ignores the role of the Attorney General’s Office.
He pointed out that Arizonans voted by a 2-1 margin in 2006 to spell out that any person who is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident, or is “without lawful immigration status,’’ is ineligible to be charged the same tuition as residents at state colleges and universities.
“Even if you don’t like the policy, you have to defend it,’’ Brnovich said.
“As prosecutors, we enforce the law,’’ he said. “If you don’t like the law, you run for governor, you run for the Legislature or you run for Congress.’’
Ultimately the Arizona Supreme Court sided with Brnovich and concluded that DACA recipients are not entitled to resident tuition.
As to the other cases Brnovich did pursue — and lose — the incumbent defended his decisions.
Take the mining case where he supported a challenge by the National Mining Association to the 2012 decision by the Obama administration to put a 20year moratorium on new mining claims around the Grand Canyon. The Department of Interior said that would provide the time to study the effects of new mining on the environment, particularly water quality.
“As Arizona’s attorney general, when the federal government and the Obama administration tried to unilaterally remove one million acres of land without any congressional veto, I thought it was important,’’ Brnovich said. “We want to make sure we have a check on the federal government.’’
Contreras said she has no problem with an attorney general seeking to exercise a check on the power of the federal government. But she argued that Brnovich was choosing the wrong issues — and the wrong side.
MARK BRNOVICH (LEFT) AND JANUARY CONTRERAS (RIGHT) face off Wednesday night in a televised debate for attorney general with KAET host Ted Simons (center).