The first debate between Trump-endorsed Republican Abraham Hamadeh and Democratic candidate Kris Mayes for Arizona Attorney General (AGO) took place Wednesday evening on Arizona PBS, sponsored by the Clean Elections Commission. The two candidates sparred for much of the time over whether the other was qualified for the position. Since Mayes has limited experience practicing as a lawyer, she heavily emphasized her experience “prosecuting” while a commissioner at the Arizona Corporation Commission, resulting in a sharp denunciation from sitting Commissioner Jim O’Connor.
O’Connor told The Arizona Sun Times the ACC does not prosecute crimes. “One of our eight divisions at the Arizona Corporation Commission is the securities division,” he said. “There is an entire separate legal group within it. They perform random audits and investigations, they find bad actors in the investment and broker dealer industries. That legal department takes care of all the civil procedures. If there is a criminal element to it, which there very often is, we then refer it and the file to the Arizona Attorney General for prosecution. She’s just making it sound like more than it is.”
When asked by the moderators how she was qualified to be the attorney general, Mayes asserted that as a corporation commissioner, she was a “judge” who had decided 2,700 cases. She said she and the other members (most of whom are not lawyers) “prosecuted securities fraud at the commission.”
She added that she “oversaw dozens of administrative judges” on the commission.
In response to the same question, Hamadeh said, “I’m the only candidate who’s actually practiced law and actually been a prosecutor. I’ve actually stepped foot in a courtroom, conducted trials.”
Later, Mayes backed off from her original statement, clarifying that “we worked with the AG’s office to put people away for fraud.”
Hamadeh responded, “Being a corporation commissioner does not require you to be a lawyer.” He went on, “My opponent has only been a professor of environmentalism and former journalist.”
The ACC’s website states, “By virtue of the Arizona Constitution, the Commissioners function in an Executive capacity, they adopt rules and regulations thereby functioning in a Legislative capacity, and they also act in a Judicial capacity sitting as a tribunal and making decisions in contested matters.”
It does not say anything regarding the commissioners engaging in prosecution. The Arizona State Bar prohibits the unauthorized practice of law (some narrow exceptions to this were carved out, but not until 2021).
A spokesperson for the Hamadeh campaign told The Sun Times, “Kris Mayes proved she lacks legal experience and understanding of the law and is focused on being an activist attorney general beholden to the Biden Administration and liberal special interest groups. It’s no wonder that while Abe continues to grow his support, national Democrats are quickly abandoning her.”
The moderators’ questions focused primarily on the candidates’ willingness to prosecute abortion laws and voter fraud from the 2020 presidential election, where there were stark differences. One political insider, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Sun Times after watching the debate he felt it was stacked against Hamadeh due to the left-leaning moderators asking questions to help Mayes. “Hamadeh was up against three village idiots,” he said.
In Mayes’ opening statement, she touted her seven and a half years serving on the Arizona Corporation Commission, and said she’d been a member of the Arizona State Bar for 15 years. She claimed she had experience prosecuting consumer fraud and pledged to protect “reproductive rights” and “democracy” if elected.
Hamadeh cited his background as a veteran, intelligence officer, and former prosecutor. He said he was worried about the country’s direction, citing rising crime and fentanyl.
“The federal government is out of touch,” he said. He said he was endorsed by every single law enforcement association including the Border Patrol.”
He concluded, “In order to have prosperity, we must have security.”
He said his experience serving overseas in the military and working with foreign officials and military officers gave him the experience of the “challenges working with pretty big bureaucracies.”
Hamadeh added he wants to bring the leadership role he acquired in that position to the AGO.
Mayes pointed out that Hamadeh has only practiced law for two years. She retorted, “This is absurd for my opponent to say I haven’t practiced law. I served seven and a half years as an Arizona Corporation Commissioner. I was a judge.” She accused Hamadeh of not knowing much about judges or the AGO, and said the AGO is 70 percent administrative law.
The candidates were next asked whether they would enforce Arizona’s laws against abortion. Hamadeh responded and said he would, since it’s the AGO’s job to enforce the laws the legislature passes.
“We have to understand, the role of the attorney general is not to set policy. … I don’t want to make the law, that’s the job of the legislature,” adding that the AGO’s role is not that of a “super legislature,” he said.
Hamadeh pointed out how Mayes has said she wouldn’t enforce any of Arizona’s three laws against abortion.
Mayes said Hamadeh “forgot to read the Arizona Constitution,” citing Article II Section 8, which she characterized as an “express right to privacy.” That section states, “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” Mayes asserted that Arizona’s laws violate this provision. She ridiculed Arizona’s original law against abortion, grimacing, “it dates to 1864!” She warned, “Women and girls are going to die because of this 1901 law because people like my opponent and Mark Brnovich are forcing it on the state of Arizona.”
Hamadeh said, “This is exactly why I mentioned her lack of legal experience.” He said that provision in the state constitution “has nothing to do with abortion.” He said if it was a legitimate argument, it would have been used by now in court cases. He cited this as a difference between him and Mayes, “I could disagree with the law, but ultimately I am tasked to enforce the law.” He said his position was a sign of “maturity;” as AGO you can’t “put your personal beliefs into your decision making.”
Hamadeh warned that Mayes was getting into “dangerous territory,” noting that “if a Democratic legislator passed a law, I am bound to uphold that law.” In contrast, “my opponent wants to pick and choose depending on her personal beliefs.”
Mayes admitted that the Arizona Supreme Court would have to decide whether the state constitution provides a right to abortion. Mayes accused Hamadeh of not upholding the law when he said he wouldn’t have decertified the election. Hamadeh explained he didn’t mean in the AGO capacity since the AGO doesn’t have that authority.
Moderator Ted Simons, the longtime host of the station’s Arizona Horizon public affairs show, asked Hamadeh if he would prosecute “unjust” laws. Hamadeh said he would prosecute laws he disagreed with, whereas unjust laws would probably be unconstitutional, which are very rare.
Mayes said the moment she takes office, she will reverse current Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s legal opinion upholding Arizona’s 1901 law against abortion. She said Hamadeh wants to put abortion providers in jail, prompting Hamadeh to say that’s incorrect, the AGO doesn’t have jurisdiction there. “It seems like every single question you’re mistaken on the role of attorney general!” he exclaimed.
George Khalaf, managing partner of The Resolute Group, which is not representing either of the candidates, told The Sun Times he believes Mayes’ strategy of focusing on abortion as a campaign issue is not going to work. “Kris Mayes may choose to ignore the law but she can’t ignore the will of the voters,” he said. “Voters in Arizona overwhelmingly oppose her extreme stances on abortion and they will make their voices heard this November.”
Simons questioned Hamadeh about statements he’d made saying he would prosecute crimes related to the 2020 election. Hamadeh said, “We’re already seeing prosecutions happen,” citing the guilty plea of the former mayor of San Luis for ballot harvesting. “There’s an ongoing investigation too. … You prosecute crimes that occurred in the past.”
Simons asked him if he thought the 2020 election was “rigged in Arizona,” and Hamadeh responded, “We literally had at the time, elected officials changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
Mayes retorted, “Obviously my opponent is anti-Democratic.” She went on, “We have the safest, most secure elections in America.” She demanded to know who Hamadeh intended to lock up when he chanted at a rally in Prescott Valley, “Lock them up!” She accused him of voter fraud for helping his mom with her ballot when he was 15.
Hamadeh responded by asking Mayes if she would have prosecuted the former mayor of San Luis, which she did not answer.
Moderator Stacey Barchenger, a reporter with The Arizona Republic, asked Hamadeh to clarify whether he’d said at the time he helped his mom vote that he selected someone she did not want to vote for.
Hamadeh said he didn’t remember and shot back, “You have done the viewers a disservice by not doing your journalistic ethical duty by disclosing the fact that my opponent used to be a reporter at your paper, and she was accused of insider trading when she was at The Arizona Republic.” He went on, “I came to debate my opponent, I didn’t think I’d be debating all three of you. I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that something I did at 15 is somehow going to affect me when I’m attorney general.”
Hamadeh next accused Mayes of being kicked off the “John McCain bus” for president because of “how dishonest John McCain thought she was as a journalist.” Mayes responded saying she was kicked off the bus because “John McCain didn’t like The Arizona Republic.” She said McCain ended up supporting her, and cited her 30-year history as a Republican before she switched to Democratic Party.
Mayes said she was not accused of insider trading and warned Hamadeh he’d better not “go there.”
Hamadeh referenced an article by Capitol Media Howard “Howie” Fischer titled, “Mayes Regrets Trade, Denies Insider Info.” That article detailed state legislators’ concerns that while Mayes was a reporter for The Republic, she purchased stock in the paper’s former parent company, Central Newspapers Inc., shortly before the public announcement that it was up for sale. Fischer reported that Mayes admitted she pocketed a $5,000 profit. He interviewed the paper’s executive editor, Pam Johnson, who said the trades violated newspaper policy.
Simons asked Hamadeh if he would have certified the 2020 election, and Hamadeh said he maintains the position he had during a primary debate on the show, he would have waited until the issues were resolved before signing off on it. Mayes said she would have certified the election, and pointed out Hamadeh wants to end voting by mail.
The final question to the candidates asked how they would deal with the border and fentanyl. Hamadeh said he would work with the governor and the legislature to declare the cartels terrorist organizations. He pointed out Mayes doesn’t list the border as one of her top three issues.
In his closing statement, Hamadeh said he came from immigrants, not a “political dynasty,” and grew up on food stamps at one point. “I’m going to fight for our seniors who are scared to go to the grocery store without being attacked.”
In Mayes’ closing statement, she declared, “American democracy runs through the state of Arizona in 2022.” She said she will make sure “the women of this state have their reproductive rights restored and our democracy is protected.”
Watch the full debate:
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Kris Mayes and Abraham Hamadeh” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.