by E. J. Montini, columnist – Nov. 21, 2010 The Arizona Republic
It was last Thursday morning and for some reason Andrew Thomas was not feeling down in the dumps. If anything he seemed much more upbeat and easygoing than when he was the Maricopa County attorney.
Still, on that day newspapers reported that an independent prosecutor had scoffed at charges that Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio had filed in nine high-profile public-corruption cases.
The Navajo County attorney announced that he agreed with the U.S. attorney in saying that the cases had “no merit.”
Add that to the ethics charges Thomas faces with the State Bar of Arizona, lawsuits filed against him and Arpaio by some of the officials they investigated, and the fact that he recently lost a close election for state attorney general and Thomas has reason to feel dejected.
But he’s not.
“I have utter confidence that when the facts come out in front of neutral people that not only will I be vindicated but it will be shown that I took on very tough causes for no political benefit,” he told me, adding, “But that may take time.”
Thomas is in the news a lot these days, almost always connected to the trouble surrounding the corruption cases. But while he admits that “political insiders” and the “elite” may focus on such things, he believes the public still views him more as a crime fighter and crusader against illegal immigration.
“I remain the only county attorney who has done anything substantively on illegal immigration, and I think that, by itself, is telling,” he said.
“Taking a tough position in politics is not often in a person’s political interest . . . I would far rather serve the public and pursue the principles I believe in with appropriate vigor than walk away from public office wishing I had done more. And I can honestly say that I left everything I had out on the arena on the issues that mattered to me.”
Some political experts believe if Thomas had concentrated on illegal immigration (he helped to write Senate Bill 1070) and not gone after county supervisors and judges, he might have won the AG’s job.
“I could have ducked those issues, but I took my job seriously, and when cases came to me that I thought were bona fide that those matters needed to be looked into,” he said. “And I think in the end people will see that I was acting in good faith tackling a very tough situation.”
Besides, he believes his election loss had more to do with being outspent by his opponent, the former state schools superintendent, Tom Horne.
Still, there might not have been an SB 1070 and not much of an illegal-immigration debate if Thomas hadn’t made “stop illegal immigration” the first of his two winning county-attorney campaigns. Yet now, when the issue is at its peak, he is out of public office.
He recently started a private practice (viewable online at andrewthomaslaw.com) and said of the transition to private life, “I’ve been getting clients who have seen me battling tough special interests while I was in office and who see me as someone who can do that for them in private practice. I enjoy that and look forward to doing justice with individual cases.”
What about the future? Does Thomas see himself getting back into politics?
He laughed and said, “Well, my tour of duty is completed. I’m not particularly spoiling for that. I will say that I’ve had the unique opportunity to serve in public office and to try to promote the principles I’ve written about and believe in, and I’m very grateful that the people of Maricopa County twice gave me that opportunity. But in the meantime I’m enjoying private life.”
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