"I was very, very disappointed in a leader of our Democratic party taking a walk on this bill," Rabago said to me afterward of his attack on Lujan. "It's one of the worst bills brought through this session. And it's wrong for Arizona. If you want to lead, you need to lead by example."
Lujan was chagrined by the criticism, and sat with a dejected expression throughout the debate. He apologized several times, profusely, for not voting on the Pearce measure Tuesday. He offered the same excuses that he made yesterday when I confronted him on his absence during the floor fight over the legislation.
"I had arranged to take this week off from the legislature to take care of some things in terms of my parents anniversary," he stated, frowning. "But I missed the vote, and that's inexcusable.
"If I had been there yesterday, it would not have changed the result. But it would have sent a message on where I stand on that particular piece of legislation. And that's where I made the mistake. But I hope that people don't mistake where I stand because of my long record of fighting...against bad immigration policy."
Lujan's admission that his presence "would not have changed the result" is revealing. The fight against the passage of SB 1070 in the House was going on even as the voting began. If the presence of the minority leader would have had no impact, you have to question the effectiveness of the man himself.
Sure, the Dems are outnumbered in the House, but if defeat is conceded on that basis, they might as well take the entire session off.
All three AG candidates condemned the new legislation, but when I talked to Rabago and the other contender for the AG post Felecia Rotellini, they admitted that the AG's office would be in a difficult position once the bill becomes law, as is expected to happen.
"It's going to get challenged immediately by a lot of groups on a lack of constitutionality," Rotellini told me. "And the AG's going to be in a pickle because if it's the law, the AG may be in a position where they have to defend that law. It's very unfortunate."
With Lujan wallowing in self-analysis, Rabago was in the catbird seat, having thrown solid punches at both of his fellow candidates. He also called into question Rotellini's decision not to run as a Clean Elections candidate, which forced Rotellini to defend herself. Something she did far more capably than Lujan.
"I am running to make sure that Andy Thomas does not become our next Attorney General," she explained to the college Dems. "You see, Andy Thomas is running clean. If he is the nominee, he will have ...about $275,000 to run a statewide campaign. It's very important that the Democrat, whoever comes out of this primary, has the ability to have a robust statewide campaign that will take on the Republican candidate."
I like the fact she's already targeting Thomas, even though the ex-Maricopa County Attorney still has to get past a GOP primary, with state schools Superintendent Tom Horne, a far less divisive figure.
I also liked it when she said that whoever the Dems put up for AG will have to "bite back" when bitten. Actually, I would contend that it'd be better to bite first before you feel the teeth of your enemy in your flesh.
To that extent, Rabago gets points for mixing it up with the other Dems. Republicans have contentious primaries all of the time. And in the blood sport of Arizona politics, this prepares them to devour their opponents in a general election.
Rabago can also speak with authority on border issues, which are likely to dominate a coming election where Republicans will shamelessly exploit the recent murder of southern Arizona rancher Rob Krentz.
"I was born and raised in Douglas, AZ, literally seven blocks from the border," he informed the audience at one point. "I've grown up my entire life along the border. My folks still live there.
He continued, saying that "the border is part of me," and that no candidate, Republican or Democrat, "is going to lecture me about the border." He went on to state that we need both border security and comprehensive immigration reform.
Later, he told me that his family knew the Krentz family, and that he'd been on the Krentz ranch before.
"He was a great guy," Rabago said of Krentz, "a real humanitarian. The Republicans are using this to advance their immigration agenda. When in reality it's a criminal issue, [involving] a violent criminal, who was most likely a drug trafficker..."
Lujan has been seriously wounded by his own actions. Though whether or not this is a fatal wound, remains to be seen. Rabago's willingness to go after Lujan and Rotellini gives him an edge. I'll be looking forward to more AG debates, to see who has the stones to take on either Thomas or Horne later this year.