Ariz. AG Candidate Pits Local Policies Against Steyer Contributions

Brnovich just one of three AGs in the nation whom Steyer is financially opposing

Arizona AG Mark Brnovich / Youtube
September 29, 2018

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is one of three attorneys general in the country who knows his opponent this fall has the backing of California billionaire and political activist Tom Steyer, but told the Washington Free Beacon he believes his track record of focusing on local issues and the rule of law will be a better hand come November.

Steyer's efforts on the national stage have been flashy. He has poured his resources into the "Need to Impeach" television campaign and pledged hundreds of millions to help Democrats retake the majority in the House of Representatives.

However, Steyer has not abandoned local politics, keeping an eye out for local races that interest him. In this instance, he is backing the Democratic nominee January Contreras, who has experience as a county and state prosecutor, but has never run for elected office until now.

"It's been said that you can judge a person by their opponents, so I don't know if I should take it as a badge of honor that a California billionaire with a radical-left agenda has decided to target me," Brnovich told the Free Beacon in a recent one-on-one interview.

"On the one hand, we should take it as a compliment because we must be doing something right."

On the other hand, Brnovich says he knows that tangling with the single biggest donor to Democrats and their causes is probably not an easy fight.

"If you look at what I've done as attorney general, it's been exactly what I said I would do."

Brnovich's supporters and opponents alike would probably agree that many of his actions while in office could at least be described as aggressive or attention grabbing.

Not many attorneys general can say they have sued the regents of the state university system over tuition prices, a move which Brnovich said even rubbed some friends and allies the wrong way.

"When I went to Arizona State in the late '80s, it was $625 a semester," he said. "I worked a part-time job. I worked in the summer. When I graduated, I had zero debt. Now, especially in the last decade or so, tuition has gone up 325, 375 percent, depending on what university you’re looking at."

Brnovich sued based on a clause in the Arizona constitution that dictates the state's higher education should be "as nearly free as possible."

The lawsuit was eventually dismissed on the basis that Brnovich, even as the state AG, did not have grounds to sue unless he had legislative authority or the permission from the governor, neither of which he had.

Although technically not a legal victory, the effort may have won significant goodwill among constituents.

Brnovich says originally, the state's universities set prices on formulas intended to keep tuition low, but that it changed about 15 years ago.

"Now what [university administrators] look at is availability of things like financial aid, and what the tuition is compared to peer universities. So what ends up happening is we have this escalating arms race among the universities."

Arizona was also a state, which, like California, witnessed a burst of lawsuit abuse via the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in which businesses would find themselves sued for thousands of dollars for minor technicalities, such as a handicapped parking sign that was four inches lower on the post than was proscribed by the law.

Brnovich says after investigating the basis of some of the lawsuits, he quickly realized many of them were just "shakedowns," that had little to do with protecting people with physical challenges, and took broad action.

"We intervened in more than 1,200 cases, we got them consolidated, and then ultimately got them dismissed," Brnovich said, adding that he also estimates that the action prevented another 9,000 similar lawsuits from ever being filed.

Another high-profile case for the first-term attorney general was winning a settlement against the blood-testing company Theranos, a high-flying Silicon Valley tech venture which has since crumbled under fraud accusations. Prior to that, however, the company had rolled out their product for limited testing in Arizona.

"When we started talking to Theranos, they had talked about, 'Oh, well most of the tests,'…I think they said up to 90 percent of them are accurate. I didn't believe that. But either way, I said, 'I don't care,' because if I had a blood test, I would want a full refund because I'm going to my doctor now."

Brnovich won a $4.65 million settlement, guaranteeing that anyone who used Theranos for blood tests would get a refund.

Steyer has taken significant interest in Arizona this election cycle, also contributing $5,100 to the Democratic nominee for governor, David Garcia. Additionally, Steyer's PAC has spent millions advancing a constitutional amendment ballot question that would significantly boost the state's renewable energy mandate.

"It’s one of the reasons I think Steyer is making a mistake by coming in [to the state] because I think there are a lot of Arizonans that just resent the fact that some billionaire from California is going to try and tell us how to run our state."

A request for comment from Steyer through his PAC NextGen America was not returned.

Published under: Arizona , Tom Steyer