Brnovich Concedes Living Wage Case to Lefties

AG Brnovich, still not a wingnutEXPAND
AG Brnovich, still not a wingnut
Arizona Attorney General's Office

I took a lot of raspberries from the left over the profile I did earlier this year of Arizona's new Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Though, I must admit that I enjoy ticking off liberals who think New Times should mimic their own third-grade comic-book attitude toward politics.

You know: Dems good, Republicans evil.

These so-called progressives are often incapable of seeing shades of gray.

Sure, the right in Arizona has more than its share of inflexible ideologues. I just don't happen to think Brnovich is one of them. 

The latest example? Brnovich has settled a lawsuit brought by a Flagstaff group that challenged a legislative ban on municipalities and counties raising the minimum wage beyond the state's measly $8.05 per hour.

In a claim filed in state court earlier this year, the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition argued that the Arizona Legislature thwarted the will of the voters in 2013 by passing a law to that effect.

Under Arizona's Voter Protection Act,  which is part of the state constitution, the legislature cannot repeal a 2006 voter-approved proposition, which allows Arizona's political subdivisions to exceed the state's mandated minimum wage.

Members of Flagstaff's Living Wage Coalition hailing their recent winEXPAND
Members of Flagstaff's Living Wage Coalition hailing their recent win
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For a Goldwater Institute conservative like Brnovich, the ideologically-correct thing to do would have been to fight the challenge through the courts for as long as possible.  

However, Brnovich recently ceded the legal point, agreeing to stipulate that the 2013 law violated the Voter Protection Act, and paying the winning side $7,500 in attorneys fees and costs.

When I called Brnovich about it, I asked him why he was bucking his buddies in the Republican-controlled legislature.

"What the law says shouldn't be a Republican or Democratic issue," he said, arguing that politics should take a backseat when you're the AG.

"The voters approved an initiative," he continued. "And as I said during the campaign, whether I agree with a specific policy or not is irrelevant. If the voters approved it, I believe as Attorney General, I have an obligation to defend it, regardless of what my personal feelings are on the policy implications."

According to the Arizona Daily Sun, a majority of the Flagstaff City Council currently opposes a minimum wage hike, but the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition could try to put the issue on the ballot in 2016. Other cities in Arizona could follow suit.

Brnovich has departed from reactionary Republican politics on other issues as well.

Concerning marijuana legalization, he's promised that if Arizona voters approve a ballot measure legalizing ganja, he will defend it in court.

Sure, he's supposed to do that anyway. But how many Republican prosecutors do you see copping a less-than-militant tone toward the funky weed?

By contrast, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk make no bones about being perfervidly opposed to legalization.

And yet, Brnovich does not fall in line with his fellow GOPers here.

In fact, Brnovich backed off an opinion issued by his office in May that would have allowed Polk and Montgomery to more easily use public resources in their campaigns against legalization efforts.

About ten days after publishing the opinion on the AG's website, Brnovich's office withdrew it, stating that the AG "takes the allegations that the previously issued opinion may have provided an opportunity for potential government abuse very seriously."

Does that sound like a knee-jerk right-wing pol to you?

In April, Brnovich moved to dismiss Arizona's appeal of a federal court's injunction against the enforcement of the human smuggling portion of Senate Bill 1070.

Essentially, Brnovich concluded that the case was unwinnable.

He told the Arizona Republic at the time that he had, "an obligation to be responsible with taxpayer dollars and defend the state where we are most likely to prevail."

The right-wing blog Seeing Red Arizona immediately lambasted Brnovich, with the following headline:

"Brnovich flies under radar as he caves on illegal enforcement: It’s all about $aving taxpayer dollar$, doncha know?"

On the other hand, Brnovich is continuing to defend this state's war on DREAMers, appealing the federal court's order to issue state driver's licenses to DREAMers whose deportations have been halted under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Brnovich argues that it's up to Governor Doug Ducey to countermand Governor Jan Brewer's spiteful executive order from 2012, blocking DACA-recipients from obtaining driver's licenses.

"I am not a policy-maker," Brnovich told me. "I feel strongly though that as Attorney General you have an obligation to defend the state's statutes and the actions of the state...The governor [has] the authority to set the policy as it relates to the driver's licenses."

I would counter that the U.S. Constitution, and specifically the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law trumps what a governor or even state's electorate wants.

If it didn't, there would still be "Whites Only" signs up all around the South.

(Note: Currently, DACA-recipients are getting their licenses, while the matter is on appeal.) 

In any case, what Ducey and Brnovich should be doing is getting together to find a way to end that apartheid-like policy once and for all. 

They could give each other political cover while doing the right thing and winning future Latino votes for their party. 

I also disagree with Brnovich's legal stance on denying in-state tuition to DREAMers attending community college, an unfortunate continuation of former AG Tom Horne's legacy.

Ditto his joining the Texas case challenging President Barack Obama's expansion of deferred deportation to some of the undocumented. 

Actually, Brnovich and I part company on countless issues. 

But this ain't the Big Rock Candy Mountain, here, folks. It's Arizona, where the Republicans rule, buzzards circle the skies, and dinosaurs roam the freaking earth.

In this political Jurassic Park, progress can be as slow as a possum in the headlights.

If Dems don't like it, they need to start winning some elections for Chrissakes.

Till then, I'll take relative moderation and common sense wherever I can find it.

Email Stephen.Lemons@newtimes.com.

On Twitter @stephenlemons.

Valley Fever on Twitter: @ValleyFeverPHX.


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