PHOENIX — Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who was disbarred
for failed corruption investigations that he and county Sheriff Joe Arpaio
launched against political opponents, has entered Arizona’s 2014 gubernatorial
race, joining a growing list of candidate jostling to replace Republican Gov.
Thomas, who continues to maintain his innocence a year after a disciplinary
panel of the Arizona courts found his office wrongfully criminally charged two
county officials and a judge to embarrass them, said Friday he will fight
“border violence” and “broken government” if elected.
“In Mexico, prosecutors who take on the powerful got shot or blown up. In
Arizona, they are disbarred, and that has to change. And I believe the voters
will agree with me,” Thomas said Friday after he submitted campaign paperwork.
A chaotic scene greeted Thomas at the state election office, where a handful of
anti-Arpaio and anti-illegal immigration activists shouted over each other and
traded insults as Thomas spoke with the press, illustrating the ugly divisions
Thomas will have to overcome to win office.
Some Republican leaders said Thomas, with his high name recognition and tea
party connections, would be a viable candidate with hard-right primary voters,
but it is unclear how he might prevail in a general election, when Democrats and
independents would likely take a harder stance on his legal woes and association
with Arpaio, a divisive figure in local politics.
“He’s coming into this political arena with a lot of baggage, of course,”
said Rodolfo Espino, a political science professor at Arizona State University.
“The association with Sheriff Joe is something really hefty that is going to be
impossible to run away from.”
Thomas served as county attorney from 2005 until he resigned in 2010 to
unsuccessfully run for Arizona attorney general. He is one of several
Republicans looking to get ahead in the gubernatorial race, along with Sen. Al
Melvin and Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
Democrat and former Arizona Board of Regents Chairman Fred DuVal, Republican
and ex-Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and Americans Elect party candidate John Mealer
have already formally filed to run.
Thomas and Arpaio brought the criminal charges in December 2009 after becoming
embroiled in a yearlong political feud with county officials. The disciplinary
panel also concluded that Thomas and a key deputy prosecutor violated criminal
intimidation and perjury laws in knowingly bringing false bribery charges
against the judge.
Other county officials and judges who were at odds with Thomas and Arpaio also
were investigated by the pair, but weren’t charged with crimes.
“His actions were seen by a lot of people as using his political office to
carry out his conservative agenda and, unlike anyone else in politics, he had
the power of bringing felony charges and arresting people and essentially
ruining reputations,” said Stephen Gerst, a law professor with the Phoenix
School of Law and a former Maricopa County Superior Court judge. “It was a
little scary for a lot of people.”
Keith Alexander, chairman of the Graham County Republican Party in southern
Arizona, said he was surprised by Thomas’ gubernatorial run.
“There were a lot of people that were concerned that he was sidetracked with
facing down people that disagreed with him rather than attending to the duties
of the office,” Alexander said.
As county attorney, Thomas was also known for confronting illegal immigration,
an issue that has divided Arizona voters in recent years.
“It’s a badge of honor for certain constituents, but keep in mind that Arizona
is changing,” Espino said. “That’s not the top concern for many Arizona voters
the way it used to be.”
Thomas said Friday he lost his 2010 primary fight against Attorney General Tom
Horne after being outspent and targeted by “every dirty trick.” Thomas is
running for governor under the state’s public campaign financing option.