Will Mark Brnovich stay Arizona’s attorney general, or will January Contreras pull an upset?

Incumbent Attorney General Mark Brnovich — the outspoken Republican who has ruffled feathers on both sides of the aisle — faces Democratic rival January Contreras Tuesday as he pursues a second term.

Contreras, a 47-year-old former prosecutor and policy adviser, decided to challenge Brnovich after “seeing some of the most consequential decisions” in public life being made in courtrooms locally and nationally. 

State attorneys general have played a central role in challenging Trump administration decisions over the last year, and Arizona was one of seven states where national political analysts said Republicans shouldn’t consider attorney-general wins in the bag.

That potential spurred high-profile Democrats — such as former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden — to intervene in the race, publicly lending their support to Contreras.

Brnovich nonetheless enjoys wider name recognition among voters and a partisan advantage in conservative Arizona, despite an onslaught of attack ads in recent weeks.

His supporters also have deeper pockets: Spending on attorney-general races nationally could top $100 million this year, according to the Washington Post, with the Republican Attorney General Association investing heavily in its incumbents.

The 51-year-old has held a comfortable lead in recent polls, with the race rated “Leans Republican” by Governing magazine and Cozen O’Connor’s AG-election tracker.

‘They like someone who hustles’

Contreras is fighting Brnovich’s re-election bid on the grounds that he is too “focused on partisan agendas” and special interests. She has repeatedly slammed him for involving Arizona in charged national fights, such as the 20-state effort to repeal part of the Affordable Care Act.

Contreras argues that what Brnovich calls an issue of constitutionality is a dangerous move that would hurt vulnerable Arizonans with pre-existing health conditions. She said that if elected, she would remove Arizona from that lawsuit and join a concurrent one that aims to maintain protections for people with pre-existing conditions “on Day One.”

Other priorities would include child welfare, consumer protection, the opioid epidemic, charter-school oversight, environmental issues and “constitutional rights,” Contreras said. She has worked in most of those areas before, during her 2000-2003 tenure as an assistant attorney general and as an aide to former Gov. Janet Napolitano from 2006-2009.

In 2012, she founded Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services, a non-profit that provides lawyers to children and young adults who have experienced homelessness, problems in the foster-care system and other trauma.

Regarding the opioid epidemic, she has said the Attorney General’s Office has neglected its responsibility “to go after these drug companies … who are making a lot of profit off the pain of people here” and “bring some of that money back home” to fund treatment services.

“Arizonans, historically — I think they like someone who hustles,” she told The Republic. “They like someone who’s not afraid of standing up to the status quo.”

‘Enforce the law as it is’

Brnovich has said he “could’ve done a much better job of scoring political points” if that were his goal, arguing he’s consistently fought scams and fraud on behalf of all Arizonans.

He said an attorney general must “enforce the law as it is, not as you want it be,” and that his process for determining which national efforts to endorse includes ensuring each one is “something that may impact Arizona.”

He has touted his office’s prosecution of “would-be terrorists” and perpetrators of sex crimes against adults and children as major victories during his first term. 

The office’s civil division also has “returned a record amount of restitution to individual consumers here in Arizona,” he said, relying on public consumer-protection presentations to build awareness and generate complaints.

His to-do list for a second term includes delving deeper into data-protection issues.

Attacks over Prop. 127

Attacks against Brnovich intensified after his office changed ballot-measure language for Proposition 127, which would require electric companies to get half their power from renewable sources by 2030. 

The revised wording says utilities would need to meet the clean-energy requirements “irrespective of cost.”

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the group promoting the measure, viewed the change as an effort to rouse opposition and ran ads implying Brnovich was doing the bidding of Arizona Public Service Co., the utility whose parent company spent more than $20 million to fight the measure.

Brnovich filed suit against the group — as well as its primary backer, San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer — in late October, charging that the ads unfairly called into question his “honesty, integrity, virtue, and reputation.”

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