Dangerous Mind

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In his cruel and unusual 1994 book Crime and the Sacking of America: The Roots of Chaos, Maricopa County Attorney hopeful Andrew Peyton Thomas wrote this:

"By publicly incarcerating drug dealers and other criminals, displaying them before their neighbors in large, open-air holding pens with their names and crimes prominently displayed, a modified stockade program could provide specific deterrence at marginal cost and general deterrence for the community."

What the Harvard Law School-educated attorney was talking about, basically, is a latter-day version of putting criminals in stocks on the public square.

Thomas continued, "Such a program would also tarnish the glamour and 'coolness' too often associated with a life of crime. This may seem harsh given our modern sensibilities, but perhaps the skeptical reader has not yet stared down the barrel of a gun as have residents of the inner cities, where many of these facilities would be located."

The book is for sale on Amazon.com for $1.67 (no typo).

No wonder that onetime Maricopa County Sheriff's Office posse member Thomas recently said of his relationship with Sheriff "Hang 'em High or Let 'em Hang Themselves" Arpaio: "I have a good relationship with Joe."

But it's too easy to label 37-year-old "Andy" Thomas (he's dropped the effete-sounding Peyton for the common-folk nickname) as the Sheriff Joe of wanna-be Maricopa County Attorneys.

One difference between him and the ancient one is: It's hard to know if Arpaio is doing all that cartoonish stuff mostly for show, whether he's oafishly trying to feed the hovering media beast in law-and-order-obsessed Arizona. That is, whether old Joe actually believes in his cold heart of hearts what he's espousing.

With Thomas there's no doubting.

He clearly believes what he says and writes -- and writes and writes! And because he's been published so often, Thomas' positions on everything from day-care centers (bad!) to the homeless (really bad!) to abortion rights (the worst!) to corporal punishment in schools (good!) to the death penalty (super!) are a matter of public record.

His core base of supporters consists of folks to whom the words illegal immigrants, welfare, right-to-choose, homosexuals, defense attorneys, activist judges, non-Christians and -- hold on tight now -- LIBERALS -- evoke conniption fits.

"Being 'smart,' and being a published writer does not make you qualified to be the Maricopa County Attorney," says opponent Mike Bailey, a homicide prosecutor turned political candidate. "And being so very sure of your points of view, no matter how far from reality they may be, does not make you an intellectually honest person. I do not think that Andrew Thomas should be in any position of power, period."

Though Thomas is naive about how things work inside the criminal-justice system -- he's never prosecuted a felony case before a jury, despite what he claimed in a televised debate a few weeks ago -- he clearly understands the importance of political catch phrases and innuendo.

For example, he set the tone for the current campaign by sticking up signs around the Valley with the slogan "STOP ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION!" atop his name. Exactly how the Maricopa County Attorney is supposed to accomplish that remains lost in rhetoric.

But the catch phrase may attract many voters sick of hearing about the hordes of illegals slithering in from nearby Mexico, taking jobs from Americans, filling schools and hospital emergency rooms, and committing crimes. You know, the usual anti-immigration propaganda that ignores the fact that many Americans don't want most of the low-paying jobs that immigrants eagerly fill.

Not everyone's biting.

Democratic candidate Don Harris drew spontaneous applause at a recent candidates' forum at the Los Abogados Hispanic Bar Association when he said of the missing Thomas, "I don't think he had the cojónes to show up here today."

But the political part of Thomas' estimable brain (and his campaign consultants) may have compelled him to try to appear more "reasonable" on some fronts than he did in a losing race for state Attorney General against Terry Goddard in 2002.

Thomas campaigned in that one with the pandering slogan "No Plea Bargains for Child Molesters."

For the record, every institution in the Western world save, perhaps, the Catholic Church and the North American Man/Boy Love Association abhors, hates and detests child molesters.

Also, trouble was, the Attorney General's Office doesn't handle child-molestation cases. Even if it did, anyone with a smidge of experience knows that prosecutors simply don't have the resources (or, sometimes, the facts) to go to trial on every molestation case.

Thomas now has been saying he would allow his prosecutors as County Attorney to plea bargain in child-molestation cases, but only if the evidence against the accused were dreadfully shaky.

"If the case is falling apart, then I'd plead it down," he said at a candidates' forum last April.

Even candidate Andrew Pacheco, who has been trying to out-Thomas Thomas on the suddenly pressing "stop immigration" issue, scoffs at the wet-behind-the-ears nature of that one.

"Sometimes, a case does go south," he tells New Times. "Testimony changes, a victim gets skittish -- and a successful prosecution just isn't possible. Now and then it even turns out that a defendant might not have been guilty after all. We're there to do justice, not to put notches on our belts."

During a televised debate a few weeks ago, Thomas claimed that mistakes "in the packaging" of his anti-plea bargain stance hurt him in the 2002 campaign. He apparently was referring to how the media reported his position, not to his own myopic views.

Fellow candidate Jerry Landau snapped back at Thomas during the debate with a nice zinger: "I don't think there was a problem with the packaging. I think there was a problem with the mouth that said it."

Even fervent Thomas supporter Steve Twist concedes, "Some people have a perception of Andy as a rigid, arch, intolerant, unyielding guy."

But he quickly adds, "That's a caricature. He's really not like that. And I think he's going to be the next Maricopa County Attorney."

Twist, chief assistant Arizona attorney general under Bob Corbin and now assistant general counsel for Viad Corporation, isn't the only one who thinks that.

Political pundits of all stripes call Thomas the front-runner of the six Republicans who want to succeed Rick Romley, who's leaving the office after 16 years.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will be favored to beat either Democrat Jonathan Warshaw or Don Harris on November 2. But moderate Republicans are expressing concern (and Democrats hope) that Thomas' X-Game politics could make a Democratic upset entirely plausible.

Unquestionably, the new County Attorney will become one of the most powerful people in this sprawling county, largely able to dictate who gets prosecuted for felonies and how long they'll spend locked up.

It's not that Thomas' five Republican foes haven't been touting their own conservative credentials. But Thomas comes across as the true believer of the crew, an honest-to-goodness ideologue.

"The root of our crime problem is a rights-happy radical individualism," he wrote in a 1995 essay that promoted greater government spending on jails, prosecutors, police and other law enforcement functions (without a word about how to combat the underlying causes of much crime, such as poverty and mental-health issues).

Thomas' anti-individualism would seem to run counter to that of Arizonans who pride themselves on their fierce, leave-me-to-my-own-devices mindset.

Mr. Conservative himself, Barry Goldwater, might turn over (to the right, naturally) in his grave after hearing Thomas' rant about the proliferation of individual rights in America. After all, Goldwater himself once warned Americans: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have."

Thomas also wants certain folks to do their parts to stem what he sees as an ongoing crime wave. He wrote in 1995: "All able-bodied men without a criminal record should once again be subject to obligatory service for community crime surveillance."

Those men, he said, should patrol neighborhoods, armed with walkie-talkies. "Their sole duty would be to inform police of crimes in progress," he went on. "Women should not be subject to such conscription for the same reasons that they have traditionally been spared combat duty."

Then came the kicker: "Properly strong criminal penalties would deter those who might be tempted to dodge this draft [to patrol the neighborhoods] by committing a crime and acquiring a criminal record."

Let's get this straight. Guys would pick up a criminal rap to avoid having to snitch on the guys and gals next door?

In Andy Thomas' wacky world.

Prosecutors at the County Attorney's Office are expressing trepidation at what an Andrew Peyton Thomas administration might bring.

"I'm already putting out feelers because of what Mr. Thomas stands for," says a veteran deputy county attorney who would never be accused of being soft on crime. "To Andy, things are black and white, us against them. But that's not the way things are in real life with every single case. Andy is an intellectual, no doubt. But he just doesn't understand nuance, and that's what this system is about."

Only one current employee of the County Attorney's Office has given money to Thomas' campaign -- controversial Romley special assistant Barnett Lotstein.

"Andy has a clear understanding of the big issues in the criminal-justice system," says Lotstein, who has donated $100 to Thomas (and an equal amount to former colleague Jerry Landau). "Obviously, he has some definite views, but he listens to opposing points of view, and he can change his mind. He's really a moderate person."

Even Thomas never has publicly called himself "moderate." Several of Lotstein's colleagues say he's angling for a new gig in the event of a Thomas win, which Lotstein, of course, denies.

Romley himself won't say a bad word about Thomas, which has given rise to speculation that he's already courting the far-right vote for a likely 2006 run against Governor Janet Napolitano.

A far more common view of Thomas inside the County Attorney's Office comes from another prosecutor who has put literally hundreds of people behind bars.

"Personally, he's nice," she says. "And I agree in principle with some things he's for. But he's a zealot. He believes women ought to be home mothering, not pursuing careers. He thinks gay people are going to rot in hell. He's against any rights for those accused of crimes. Hell, I'm a career prosecutor, and I think his views smack of something out of a George Orwell book. He's impractical, inexperienced and thinks he's got it all figured out. That's dangerous."

That fancy pants Thomas even has a shot at winning is remarkable: As contrasted with blue-collar Rick Romley, a product of Arizona State University via the rice paddies of Vietnam, Thomas was schooled at Harvard Law and is easily conversant about Greek philosophy and the Hobbesian theory of government and society (whatever that is).

Romley (like the vast majority of the electorate) probably knows more about late Diff'rent Strokes star Dana Plato and Jackie Kennedy's second husband, Aristotle Onassis, than about the philosophers of the same names.

For certain, Thomas has far less experience with the machinations of the criminal-justice system than each of his five opponents: His several months last year in the low levels of the County Attorney's Office about sums up his experience on that level.

Before that, Thomas worked as an assistant attorney general for a few years in the late 1990s, during which time he served as chief attorney for the Arizona Department of Corrections. (Then-DOC chief Terry Stewart has donated to Thomas' campaign.)

Currently, Thomas is making ends meet for himself, his wife and four children by working at the private Phoenix law firm of Wilenchik & Bartness.

His rsum is vastly unlike those of the other candidates. Mike Bailey has prosecuted killers and rapists. Andrew Pacheco helped put New Mexican Mafia members behind bars. Jerry Landau prosecuted drunken drivers who hurt people. Tom McCauley assisted victims of domestic violence. And, well, at least defense attorney candidate Rick Poster can find a criminal courtroom.

But, argues key Thomas supporter Steve Twist, "The race for County Attorney shouldn't be decided on who has done the most trials. It should be decided on who has the best vision for the office. I'm much more interested in a person's policy views and his vision than how many times they've faced a jury."

His quest to lead the prosecutors of Maricopa County notwithstanding, one reason Thomas has spent so little time as a line prosecutor may be that he's taken such a dim view of them in the past.

In 1996, he wrote in the conservative Weekly Standard that criminals are using the U.S. Constitution to foster "the makings of a new tyranny over which they can preside." (Translation: Legal concepts such as due process to defendants, right against self-incrimination, even the attorney-client privilege, ought to be outlawed now!)

Thomas claimed that prosecutors -- "generally, they are relatively young and inexperienced, and of average ability" -- are outgunned in the war against these "criminals."

He then quoted author Tom Wolfe from The Bonfire of the Vanities, who referred to prosecutors as providing "garbage-collection service, necessary and honorable, plodding and anonymous."

It would seem that Thomas might want to reinvigorate vagrancy laws as County Attorney, based on another selection of his poison penmanship.

In a 1996 piece published in the Weekly Standard, he wrote, "The homeless are homeless, not because of a cruel twist of fate, but because, by and large, they have turned their backs on their loved ones and communities, preferring to go it alone."

It's uncertain if Thomas has ever visited downtown Phoenix's homeless shelter -- a depository for the seriously mentally ill, many of whom commit crime after crime. It's also uncertain if he ever has done a ride-along with Phoenix cops assigned to patrol the gritty streets around the shelter, and who decry the lack of funding for mental health in Arizona.

Here's Thomas' "solution" for the homeless problem, in his 1994 book Crime and the Sacking of America:

"Vagrancy laws should be enforced once again. The community should re-institutionalize vagrants who are mentally ill, and should expect the families of these individuals, depending on their financial means, to help pay the cost of their care. The rest should be given short-term assistance, but then be legally required not to revert to their former lifestyle."

How all this could be accomplished, he never lets on.

Women who work at the County Attorney's Office, especially those with small children, ought to seriously wonder where they would fit into Thomas' scheme of things.

Soon after then-president Bill Clinton proposed a huge expansion of child-care programs in 1998, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Thomas, which averred:

"Children raised in day-care centers and similar institutions are often emotionally and mentally impaired."

He noted that in the 1950s (years before he was born in 1966), "children were raised by two parents in a safe, comfortable home, and mom was almost always there to look after them when they were young."

Thomas, however, didn't recommend that the government fund better day-care centers to reduce the numbers of those "mentally impaired kids." Neither did he remotely suggest more welfare payments to single mothers that might allow them to stay home, if that's so important to him.

Instead, he wrote: "The idea that most members of the workforce have anything resembling a career is itself untenable. It is a notion invented by the intellectual elite who provide the exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of people work at rote, rather dull jobs. Moreover, the common belief that both parents must work to maintain a 'decent' standard of living is both erroneous and irrelevant."

In other words, little ladies, get back to the kitchen where you once belonged.

Though no polls have emerged, most political observers view 34-year-old Andrew Pacheco as Andy Thomas' chief competitor in the Republican primary.

Pacheco has been trying of late to position himself as the "toughest" of the lot, even going so far as to call Thomas "soft" on the issue of illegal immigration.

That's akin to calling Hitler soft on the "Jewish question."

Still, the ambitious Pacheco seems to be a decent sort who resigned from the U.S. Attorney's Office to run for the county post. He's won endorsements from U.S. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, as well as from J. Fife Symington III.

His platform -- the unofficial title for which is "Focus Like a Laser," as he likes to say -- is all about being tough, tough and tougher on criminals. Can't go wrong there. But his curious embrace of the ex-Arizona governor turned pastry chef flies in the face of his otherwise stout law-and-order credentials.

In 1997, Symington resigned from office in disgrace after he was convicted of seven felonies for repeatedly misstating his net worth to financial institutions to obtain loans. The convictions later were overturned on a technicality.

Another candidate, Jerry Landau, long was a high-ranking member of Romley's unofficial "cabinet." He's well-connected at the Arizona Legislature, and most local police agencies have endorsed him, as has his former boss Romley. But many observers say Landau is so closely aligned to Romley that his own unique visions for the office -- if he has any -- are getting lost in the shuffle. That's ironic in a way because the departing Romley remains popular with the public.

Another candidate for the job has the same fixation, only from the opposite extreme. Ex-deputy county attorney Tom McCauley also ought to be reminded that Romley isn't up for reelection. His unofficial campaign platform may be summed up in four words: "Rick Romley's office sucks."

On the upside, McCauley long has helped local victims of domestic violence, and he recently won the endorsement of Denise Brown, the sister of O.J. Simpson's murdered ex-wife, Nicole. However, an aide to McCauley unintentionally provided some dark humor last month when he invited listeners at a Phoenix candidates' forum to attend a cocktail hour with "Nicole Brown." The gaffe caused someone to whisper, "Now, that's a story!"

The other candidates include Mike Bailey, who quit his job as a homicide prosecutor to run for office. Bailey doesn't have nearly as much campaign money as Thomas and Pacheco, but he has repeatedly shone during the campaign's few give-and-take debates.

Like Andy Thomas, Bailey is pro-life, pro-death penalty and against bad guys in general. But the contrasts between the two men are striking:

Thomas believes in throwing the book at everyone -- charge-the-max-even-after-you-get-the-facts.

To the contrary, Bailey recognizes that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has limited resources to perform its myriad duties. And he's become convinced that using those resources, say, to convict people of minor drug possession crimes, is inane.

"I want prison reserved for those who hurt other people physically or have taken their property," he tells New Times. "I don't know whether that plays as a Republican here, but it's how I feel. We have to put our priorities on the most serious cases or we fail. Andrew Thomas is all talk. Andy is going to be tough on everyone. What a bill of goods!"

Thomas expressed his views on the "evils" of marijuana and social change in a piece in the May 1997 issue of the periodical American Enterprise.

Titled "Marijuana and Mea Culpas," Thomas' essay includes the statement, "It is a sad, obvious fact that by sampling drugs in their youth, today's parents lost some of the natural moral high ground and filial awe that are important assets for successful parenting. Yet they can still recover much if not all of this authority, if they will acknowledge that they committed an even bigger mistake by participating in the rupturing and casting aside of the customs and moral principles that successfully guided many prior generations."

Say what?! It's hard to tell, but he could be arguing that parents must counsel their children that they were high as kites or they wouldn't have protested against the Vietnam War and listened to Country Joe and the Fish so much.

The final Republican candidate is Rick Poster, a criminal-defense lawyer who worked as a county prosecutor in the mid-1990s. Predictably, Poster joins the chorus of candidates promising to be endlessly "tough" on crime. In his instance, that means his current clients.

At least one of Poster's ideas, to set up a day-care center for employees of the County Attorney's Office with young kids, sets him far apart from Andy Thomas' Neanderthal views on the subject.

In a few weeks, Encounter Books will release Andrew Peyton Thomas' latest tome, The People vs. Harvard Law: How America's Oldest Law School Turned Its Back on Free Speech.

New Times could not obtain an advance copy, but each of his three other books -- the crime book; Clarence Thomas: A Biography; and Fighting the Good Fight: America's "Minister of Defense" Stands Firm on What It Takes to Win God's Way (he co-authored the latter with ex-football great and unrepentant homophobe Reggie White, apparently a kindred spirit both politically and spiritually) -- tell much about Andy Thomas and how he thinks.

For example, the well-researched, if predictably glowing, 2001 book on the conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice is telling (about Andy) in one critical aspect:

Andy (need we say that the pair aren't related) was honest enough not to sugar-coat a key component of the justice's controversial saga.

It turns out, Andy wrote, that what Clarence Thomas' detractors long had believed indeed was true: The judge had discussed his views on abortion and Roe v. Wade with several others before the wild 1991 Senate confirmation hearings that included law professor Anita Hill's memorable testimony.

Thomas had testified under oath that he hadn't.

But Andy Thomas' own damning evidence about his subject -- the guy apparently committed perjury, for God's sake! -- didn't keep him from writing that Clarence Thomas is a magnificent jurist and person.

During those confirmation hearings, Senator Joe Biden expressed frustration with Clarence Thomas' bobbing and weaving away from certain questions.

"I have more to ask you, Judge," Biden told Clarence Thomas at one point. "But frankly at this point, you leave me with more questions than answers."

Which is how Andrew Peyton Thomas must have felt when Justice Thomas repeatedly rebuffed requests for an interview for the biography.

Certainly, it's how New Times felt after Thomas (Andy, not Clarence) refused to return numerous requests for an interview of his own.

But just as Andy went ahead with his book, New Times has gone ahead with this story.

Here's what he said in his most recently published article -- in the May 20 edition of the National Review Online, in which he discussed the then-pending "handover" of government control in Iraq to local officials:

He spoke of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, concluding (stop the presses!) that it "obviously will not help the Western democratic cause. Too many Iraqis will be tempted to view these acts by lawless U.S. soldiers not as isolated depravities, or even as a sordid distillation of a temporary pop culture forged by the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Madonna, but rather as a broad indictment of freedom and democracy. This would be the wrong conclusion to draw, of course, and the fact that these abuses will abet anti-democratic forces in the country is arguably the worst aspect of the scandal."

Welcome to Thomasville!

E-mail paul.rubin@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8433.

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