Front Line Series: January Contreras AG candidate in Arizona

January Contreras is the Democratic candidate for Attorney General of Arizona

The state of Arizona is being actively contested as Democrats try to take advantage of backlash from Republican overreach and changing demographics. One incredibly important race that can’t be forgotten is the race for the top prosecutor in the state—the Attorney General. In 2018 Democrats will be fielding January Contreras to take on the incumbent running for re-election.

Arizona will be a tough challenge for Dems and if the Resistance movement wants to see change in a state that went Republican in every race since George W. Bush in 2000, they will need to open their wallets and volunteer their time. I asked Contreras what will make the difference in a state where the GOP has the governorship, the state House and the state Senate?

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“I’ve been meeting Arizonans across Arizona for a year now. One thing they tell me over and over is that people are losing faith in government. People want integrity and accountability in government again, and I am running precisely to restore these values at the Attorney General’s Office.” Lack of faith in government is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Voters have long been conditioned by Republican politicians but Contreras suggests that voters in Arizona may finally be at a tipping point.

“I see voters shaking their heads as they learn that [Mark Brnovich] is defending the Koch Brothers in a California courtroom, that he sued to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, and that he tried to make Arizona the only state in the country to keep driver’s licenses from young people with DACA.” Contreras is describing the actions of the incumbent she is facing in November but Koch interests are pervasive across the country and the Republican Party writ large is attacking the ACA and trying desperately to make sure that people with so-called pre-existing conditions can be financially decimated or priced out entirely from the health insurance market. So what gives Contreras confidence in 2018? She says it’s a desire for fairness, “…people from all parties continue to join our team because they see this campaign as a solution to the problems that plague the status quo in Arizona. I’m going to protect all Arizonans, especially our most vulnerable, and I’ll get rid of the grip that special interests have on our state government so we can get back to the business of holding everyone accountable to the same set of rules.”

Families in Arizona have been impacted by another powerful lobby. The Justice Policy Institute reports that Arizona is a leader in keeping private, for-profit prisons full of its citizens. I asked Contreras if justice is being served when punishment and rehabilitation are driven by a desire for financial gain. “Our law enforcement priorities should be based on public safety, not profits,” says Contreras. “I’ve served as a county prosecutor and an Assistant Attorney General in the criminal division, and I’ve been the lawyer to women and kids who have lived through horrible abuse and trafficking. Some people commit crimes that demand incarceration for public safety and for justice, however, there should never be a profit motive linked with that incarceration. Private prisons—and their lobbyists—work to increase incarceration rates and create bed quotas in prison and detention facilities to turn a higher profit. That’s just wrong. These practices undermine our justice system in a shameful way.”

Voters have, in the past, given the current Attorney General, Mark Brnovich a pass for having lobbied on behalf of CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) a private prison company based here in Nashville, TN. The publicly traded company now goes by the innocuous name CoreCivic. Contreras expressed some amazement that Brnovich could hold his current post with his deep ties to companies that benefit directly from mass incarceration. “I’m running against a guy who was on the payroll for one of the largest private prison corporations as their lobbyist and business development director. We can, and will, do better.”

Recent polling in Arizona suggests that Donald Trump has lost some of his grip on GOP voters. If given the opportunity, they’d like to see a different Republican in the top spot. Given that, it was perplexing that a prosecutor would advocate for the subject of an investigation to choose his own judge, but Brnovich has come out in support of Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. I asked Contreras for her thoughts on her opponent’s endorsement of Kavanaugh.

“Our country was founded with checks and balances, and those principles are worth fighting for,” Contreras says in a not-so-subtle swipe at Brnovich’s support of Trump. “But I’m spending every day making sure voters know that now—no matter what happens in DC—their duty to vote is what will elect champions for accountability, integrity, and for the people instead of special interests.”

January Contreras is the Democratic nominee for Attorney General in Arizona. Former county prosecutor, Asst Attorney General, & founding member of ALWAYS a non-profit that provides legal services to vulnerable women and children.