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Carmen Chenal Overwhelmed as Tom Horne Pulls an Andy Thomas on Redistricting

Horne on the night of the 2010 GOP primary for state Attorney General, which he won by a razor-thin margin.
Stephen Lemons

It's worse than I thought regarding Carmen Chenal, confidante of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who followed Horne from the Arizona Department of Education, where she served while Horne was state Superintendent, to the AG's Office.

As I detailed in my July 14 column ("Horne Hired Carmen Chenal 'Cause . . . She's His Goombah"), Chenal's main qualification for a post in the AG's Office is being Horne's bud.

If she weren't, it's unlikely she ever would have scored such a prestigious gig, much less one that pays $108,000 a year and places her in charge of foreign extraditions of dangerous fugitives.

Chenal, who practiced construction law, was suspended by the State Bar of Arizona in 2005 for various ethical lapses. She applied for reinstatement in 2010, and after a hearing at which Horne, then AG-elect, declared she would have a job in his new administration, she was reinstated and placed on probation.

Chenal had worked at the ADE under Horne, despite her suspension, her record of personal bankruptcy, and a DUI charge that was busted down to reckless driving.

She also labored as a political operative for Horne, helping him to beat ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in the Republican primary for AG by a mere 899 votes.

Keep those 899 votes in mind, as they will help explain Horne's other shenanigans.

Upon being sworn in as AG, Horne hired Chenal, overlooking her history and that her license to practice law had not yet been reinstated. Once that second hurdle was overcome, she was made an assistant attorney general, and her salary bumped up.

Now I'm informed by Horne's flack, Amy Rezzonico, that Chenal's duties in the AG's criminal division are much more extensive than just overseeing foreign extraditions.

Rezzonico recently explained via e-mail that Chenal's job assignment also mandates that she "identify, investigate, and prosecute complex fraud cases in the Superior Court of the State of Arizona."

She said: "[Chenal] drafts indictments, motions, responses, legal memorandums, and pleadings for filing in various county Superior Courts. She is also charged with prosecuting criminal cases (which would include presenting cases to the state grand jury)."

This Chenal situation not only implicates Horne in an unusual arrangement on behalf of an amiga, it also taints the entire criminal division, her immediate supervisor, Ted Campagnolo, and former Judge Jim Keppel, who oversees the division.

Making your boss happy is par for the course in any working environment, public or private. But when an individual with Chenal's record is granted such responsibilities as dealing with grand juries and fugitives from justice, it calls into question everyone in the chain of command.

Many people, particularly in comments to my column, suggested I was hinting at an inappropriate relationship between Chenal, who is single, and Horne, who is married.

I am not. Chenal's employment at the AG's Office is troublesome enough without such an insinuation.

ANDY'S GHOST

Horne is an intelligent man, a former Democrat born in Canada to parents who reportedly emigrated from Europe to our 51st state because they were fleeing the Nazi menace.

In fact, Horne is one of that endangered breed, the moderate Republican. He even talks wistfully of having participated as a young man in Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous 1963 March on Washington.

Which makes him suspect in the eyes of his now-fellow GOPers, many of whom preferred the rancidly partisan red meat that Andy Thomas dished out to them, both as County Attorney and on the campaign trail in his failed attempt to become the GOP nominee for AG in 2010.

As mentioned, that was a battle that Horne barely won. Thomas' witch hunts against the County Board of Supervisors, sitting judges, and others may have given pause to those Rs who cast ballots for Horne, but for the rest, it was reason to elevate Thomas to the top law enforcement official in the state.

Criminalizing perceived partisan behavior is a classic right-wing tactic. In Thomas' case, however, he overreached, even venturing into alleged criminal behavior himself. This has led directly to the current State Bar proceedings against him and his two top henchwomen, former deputy county attorneys Rachel Alexander and Lisa Aubuchon.

The Bar trial began September 12, and Thomas, notably, did not bother to attend opening day. If a sense of shame and impending doom has taken hold of the ex-prosecutor, so much the better.

Thomas was a true believer, pursuing vendettas against political enemies in traditional far-right fashion. Horne, not so much.

But the AG looks to finish his political career in the governor's chair. To do so in a virulently red state such as Arizona, he must shore up his right flank and prove to GOP doubtful that he has some Thomas in him — hence his forays into using public office as a tool of partisan warfare.

 

These began while still state schools superintendent, with an assault on Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies program.

Horne championed an overly broad, McCarthy-esque statute meant to eradicate MAS, despite overwhelming evidence that the program benefits at-risk kids. Before leaving the ADE, he found MAS out of compliance with this law and called for its end.

Incoming Superintendent John Huppenthal had promised MAS' demise on the campaign trail. This blew up in his face when the auditing firm he hired to investigate the program issued a report praising MAS, stating that it was not out of compliance.

Huppenthal made it seem as if the report backed up a decision to force MAS to close up shop. It didn't. That debacle has leant serious support to a teachers' lawsuit in federal court, seeking to have the statute tossed.

Horne still uses the law to bolster his right-wing bona fides. At a recent Tea Party panel on ethnic studies, he told the Tea Party wackadoodles that the only way the TUSD could come into compliance with the state's probably unconstitutional law was to terminate the program.

"Carthage must be destroyed," he reportedly declared, invoking the words of Roman statesman Cato the Elder about Rome's rival, which ultimately was wiped off the face of the Earth and its population sold into slavery.

The wingnuts loved that one. Hell, they'd enjoy dropping an H-bomb on lefty Tucson, flattening the Old Pueblo like a tortilla.

More troubling are Horne's legal broadsides against the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

The AIRC is redrawing Arizona's political map in line with the 2010 census. Its main job is coming up with districts that will meet the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Because of Arizona's legacy of voter suppression, it must win "pre-clearance" with the feds under the VRA, as do several states.

Horne could have petitioned the feds to release Arizona from this mandate. Instead, he challenged sections of the law itself, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directly.

More bloody steak for the extreme right, which has never cottoned to minorities having access to the polls — at least not without a few roadblocks thrown in their way.

I'm glad that the feds maintain pre-clearance in this, America's most nativist state. With outright bigots in the Legislature regularly writing laws to discriminate against our Mexican-American population, persistent ethnic strife, and widespread hatred of the undocumented, pre-clearance is one of the few protections that minority voters here have.

Particularly in light of the one-party rule of a state GOP dominated by a contingent for which bashing Mexicans is de rigueur.

The GOP and its Tea Party faction are openly hostile to the AIRC and want nothing to do with the "independent" nature of its mission.

So they have politicized the process in a blatant attempt at intimidation. Wingnut bloggers and politicos openly daydream of throwing redistricting back into the lap of the Legislature, controlled by a Republican supermajority.

To appease the ultra-conservanut ghost of Thomas' public career and Arizona Tea Baggers, Horne jumped on the bandwagon with a grandstanding splash, announcing an investigation to the media, and comparing trumped-up allegations of AIRC Open Meetings Law violations to "Watergate."

Essentially, the allegations come down to the choice by the AIRC of a mapping firm with Democratic ties by the name of Strategic Telemetry, and whether the AIRC's lone Independent, Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, engaged in vote-swapping.

The two Republicans on the AIRC have testified under oath during interviews with the AG's Office that Mathis called them before the mapping-firm vote, seeking a unified 5-0 tally. Commissioner Rick Stertz, who was appointed by state Senate President Russell Pearce, implicated Mathis in alleged vote trading.

Yet the AG's Office is conflicted in any investigation under State Bar ethics rules. The AG's Office served as the AIRC's lawyer for several months. Horne is, essentially, investigating his former client over matters his office previously gave advice on.

If that sounds familiar, it's one of the very ethics charges Thomas is now facing, along with the threat of disbarment.

One of the AIRC's current lawyers, Joe Kanefield, who previously served as Governor Jan Brewer's general counsel, noted the conflict in a letter to the AG's Office along with Mary O'Grady, Arizona's former solicitor general.

Horne's response? A motion in superior court to compel testimony from Mathis and the two Democratic commissioners, a motion he first announced to the New York Times.

Kanefield's signature on that "objection letter" to Horne is significant because he serves as the president of the State Bar. Horne's motion noted that a holdover from ex-AG Terry Goddard's administration had disputed the ethical conflict in writing.

Thing is, that holdover is an "at will" employee. Meaning she has to do what Horne says, or risk getting axed.

 

Horne was present at Stertz's interview and engaged in some of the questioning himself. Sources have suggested that he and Stertz had ex parte communications before the investigation.

When I asked Horne about this, he denied it at first, then he said he would have to check to be sure.

He eventually explained that Stertz had attempted to contact him via text message, and he responded to Stertz telling him that he could not speak to him, as the AIRC was represented by counsel.

But when I did a public-records request on Stertz's text messages and e-mails, Stertz responded via Kanefield that he "never had any e-mail communications or telephone calls with . . . the Attorney General's Office."

As for Horne's personal texts, Rezzonico told me he does not retain them.

Convenient, eh? Horne should beware of copycatting his ex-foe Thomas. Doing so already is bearing poison fruit.


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