Arizona AG: The Uniquely Controversial Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas has been at the center of the most surreal dispute in American local government in recent history. He is beloved by some Arizona conservatives, but regarded as a rogue prosecutor by his many critics, including many fellow Republicans. He could be Arizona's next attorney general.
by | August 20, 2010
 

The most controversial person on a ballot on Tuesday will not be John McCain or Jan Brewer or even Jeff Greene or Rick Scott. Instead, beyond a reasonable doubt, it's Andrew Thomas.

Thomas used to serve as Maricopa County Attorney (an elected post), an office he left recently to run for Arizona Attorney General. He'll try to win the Republican nomination on Tuesday against Tom Horne, Arizona's Superintendent of Schools.

Thomas isn't as famous as Joe Arpaio, but he should be. The Harvard Law graduate has been Arpaio's close political ally, winning conservative fans for his tough stances against illegal immigration. But, that's not the biggest reason he's controversial.

No, the biggest source of controversy is Thomas' leading role in what has been the most surreal dispute in American local government in recent history. Essentially, Thomas and Arpaio have been engaged in a legal and political war with Maricopa County's Board of Supervisors. The supposed origins of this feud are almost laughably mundane. Thomas and Arpaio oppose an expensive new court building the county is constructing (and they view the construction as marred by corruption). They didn't like budget cuts to their departments.

What isn't mundane is the scope of people who have been brought into this tussle. The saga has lots of twists and turns that make it difficult to summarize, but a story in the Arizona Republic from December at least gives you a sense of what has been going on:

Alleging widespread conspiracy, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday against county administrators, elected officials, judges and attorneys. Those defendants, they say, are violating federal racketeering laws by hindering criminal investigations and depriving their offices of resources.

County officials dismissed the claim as frivolous, saying Arpaio and Thomas have routinely lost on similar claims in state and local courts.

In the lawsuit, Thomas and Arpaio name all five members of the Board of Supervisors along with County Manager David Smith, Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson, four Maricopa County Superior Court judges, director of the county's civil-litigation division, two attorneys and a law firm.

Essentially, Thomas and Arpaio were alleging that most of the other important people in Maricopa County (and their lawyers) were conspiring against them. That was just a civil suit. But, Thomas also indicted two county supervisors on dozens of felony counts. (Note that, under more normal circumstances, the county attorney would be the lawyer who serves county supervisors.) Thomas even indicted a judge who had made rulings against him, alleging that he was in cahoots with the supervisors and accepting bribes.

All of those cases eventually sputtered out. Documents later revealed that Thomas had been considering indicting the entire Board of Supervisors. He also at various points investigated two of the most prominent Democrats in the state, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Attorney General (and Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Terry Goddard, but those investigations also went nowhere.

As all of this has happened, the spotlight has turned to Thomas himself. Supporters see someone taking on entrenched, corrupt power. Critics see a prosecutor who is out of control (in that vein, Reason had a good summary of the case against Thomas). One of his targets, Maricopa County County Supervisor Don Stapley, has gone so far as to call him "evil." Stapley, like Thomas, is a Republican.

Thomas currently is under FBI investigation for abusing his prosecutorial authority, but that hasn't stopped him from pursuing the race for attorney general. As you'd expect, the race between Thomas and Horne has been quite nasty. Democrats have credible candidates too, but they'll be hard-pressed to win the race this year in Arizona.

Also, of note on the Tuesday ballot is the race for Thomas' old job. Rick Romley, the interim county attorney (and long-time county attorney before Thomas) faces off with Bill Montgomery, an Arpaio ally.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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