Arizona's next attorney general will influence abortion laws and other critical legal issues
Arizona’s attorney general represents state agencies in lawsuits, offers legal opinions to state lawmakers, and can also pursue lawsuits against the federal government. Arizonans will soon have a new attorney general for the first time in eight years. And the candidate voters choose in November will face issues related to consumer rights, border security, and abortion.
When the current attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich, took office in 2015, he had more than a decade of experience with the offices of attorney general and Maricopa County attorney, in addition to years spent serving as a U.S. District attorney.
Either of the candidates running to replace Brnovich would bring a much different background to the post. Republican Abe Hamadeh is an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army Reserve, and he worked as a prosecutor for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office from 2017 to 2021. Democrat Kris Mayes served on the Arizona Corporation Commission from 2003 to 2010. Earlier in her career, Mayes was a journalist with the Arizona Republic.
In debates, each has accused the other of not having enough experience for the role.
“It seems like every single question you’re mistaken on the role of attorney general," Hamadeh said of Mayes during a Sept. 28 debate on Arizona PBS.
“Sorry that you’re confused about the Arizona Constitution, Abe, I know you only graduated from law school a few years ago," Mayes said at another point in the debate.
Hamadeh, who is 31, is the youngest statewide candidate on the Arizona ballot. But he says leadership and decision-making skills he gained in the military, and his experience on about two dozen trials with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, have prepared him to lead the state's largest legal office.
"I don't think being young determines experience level," Hamadeh told KJZZ News. "I think right now we need new perspective and new energy."
Fifty-one-year-old Mayes sees overlap between her background as an elected utility regulator and the role of attorney general, since the Arizona Corporation Commission adjudicates cases related to consumer protection and fraud.
"It's actually very similar in terms of the management role that a commissioner plays and the attorney general plays," Mayes told KJZZ News.
Both candidates’ platform issues reflect their backgrounds.
Mayes, who has taught courses on environmental law at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, says she wants to prosecute out-of-state businesses impacting Arizona’s water supply, like one company that’s been growing alfalfa here to feed cattle in Saudi Arabia.
“I think the people of Arizona agree that that is insane at a time when we are experiencing 21% cutbacks in our water supply on the Colorado River," Mayes said.
Hamadeh refers to his military service when he says he wants get Arizona’s Legislature to classify drug cartels as terrorist organizations.
“I want to take a much more aggressive role in securing our southern border to stop the flow of fentanyl, which is a plague in our communities," Hamadeh said, adding that the terrorist designation comes with enhanced sentencing.
Hamadeh's border stance echoes that of former President Donald Trump. And Trump’s endorsement helped Hamadeh beat five opponents to secure the Republican nomination in the August primary. Hamadeh has also embraced Trump’s claims, without evidence, that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
During the Sept. 28 debate, in which Hamadeh accused moderators of bias, Arizona PBS’s Ted Simons pressed Hamadeh on whether he would have participated in certifying the 2020 vote if he had been the attorney general at the time.
"Does that mean you would not have signed on as a witness?" Simons asked.
"At the time, with the issues, I’ve said, no, I would not have," Hamadeh said.
Hamadeh has raised questions about Arizona's widely used vote-by-mail system. When asked, in debates and interviews, to cite evidence of fraud, Hamadeh brings up issues from the 2020 and 2022 primaries, which would not have impacted Trump’s presidential race.
Mayes was a lifelong Republican. She switched her voter registration in 2019 over concerns about Trump’s influence on the Republican party. She calls Hamadeh’s rhetoric dangerous.
“If we elect an attorney general who is not willing to certify a fair and free election like we had in 2020, like we will have in 2022, then we will have lost our democracy," Mayes said.
In the time since Mayes and Hamadeh each declared their candidacy for attorney general, the major focus of the race has shifted to abortion. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office now has much more influence over access to abortion in Arizona than it has had in 50 years. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Brnovich, the current attorney general, has been leading the lawsuit to allow Arizona to enforce a Civil War-era law that bans almost all abortions.
Hamadeh says he thinks Brnovich’s interpretation of the law is correct.
Mayes calls the law "outrageous." More than that, she thinks it’s unenforceable because she believes it violates the right to privacy guaranteed by the state constitution.
“We will never prosecute a doctor, a nurse, a midwife, a doula or a pharmacist when I’m attorney general, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that the 15 county attorneys in Arizona also follow the Arizona constitution," Mayes told KJZZ News.
But Hamadeh argues it’s not realistic to apply Arizona’s privacy clause in this case.
“It’s dangerous territory when you pick and choose laws to enforce," Hamadeh told KJZZ News.
On his website, Hamadeh defines himself as pro-life and says he’d protect children beginning at conception. But in debates and interviews, he has said simply that he’ll follow whatever legislators say on this issue.
“My job as attorney general is to enforce the law," Hamadeh said.
But it’s not only a matter of enforcement. How the state's largest legal office interprets or prioritizes that law and many others, will come down to which, of two very different candidates voters choose on Nov. 8.