Save for his cast-bound right leg and the scooter next to him, which he uses to get around while recuperating from a recent bone-graft operation, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich looks like John Belushi in Animal House.
Maybe it's the wiry black hair, dark features, and jovial persona. The comparison isn't far off the mark. Belushi was of Albanian stock, and Brnovich's parents, both ethnic Serbs, hailed from a similar part of the world, the former Yugoslavia.
Dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans, drinking cup after cup of Diet Pepsi in a Mexican joint near the Paradise Valley Mall just a couple of days before Christmas, Brnovich explains why, on the campaign trail during the Republican primary, he sometimes described himself as "the Jerry Garcia of Arizona politics" to groups of GOPers.
"I swore to myself that if I got into this, I was not going to be the dude with the canned speech," he says, speaking rapidly in a gravelly voice during one of a series of long interviews with New Times.
"You know the Grateful Dead's gonna play 'Playing in the Band,' right? But are you going to get the four- or five-minute version or are you going to get the 20-minute version?"
As with his favorite band's proclivity to jam and play without a set list, Brnovich prides himself on never giving the same speech twice, unlike many politicians, who usually stick to a carefully vetted script.
Not everyone understood his analogy, like at one Republican fundraiser he remembers.
"One lady turned to another and said, 'Who's Jerry Garcia?,' he recalls. "Then another lady said, 'Oh, my God, is he a drug addict?'
"So I had to explain that Jerry Garcia was part of the Grateful Dead, and that, no, I'm not a drug addict."
The 48-year-old Brnovich has seen the legendary '60s stoner band at least a half-dozen times in various formations, with and without its deceased frontman Garcia.
Still, Brnovich insists he's never tried pot, dropped acid, or done any illicit drug -- ever.
"I wouldn't say I was a goody-goody," he says of his time in college. "Look, I went to [Arizona State University] so there's probably a photo out there of me drinking beer or doing something like that."
But not drugs, he insists, though it's difficult to believe he avoided a contact high while attending Dead concerts, or performances by Kid Rock, another of his favorites.
Indeed, during conversations with Brnovich, you have to remind yourself that this is the same conservative lawyer who has worked for both the Goldwater Institute and private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America, and who has been a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, the Arizona Attorney General's Office, the local U.S. Attorney's Office, and with the Judge Advocate General's Corps, while in the Army National Guard.
Over the arc of his career, he has prosecuted thieves, killers, armed robbers, and assorted gang-bangers.
From 2009 to 2013, he ran a small law enforcement agency while head of the Arizona Department of Gaming, with 35 sworn law enforcement officers committed to cracking down on unregulated gambling.
Appointed to the post by Governor Jan Brewer, he stepped down in early September 2013 and, later that month, declared his intention to take on incumbent Attorney General Tom Horne in the 2014 GOP primary.
Though Horne already was hobbled by a sex scandal, an FBI investigation of his office, and allegations of lawbreaking, Brnovich had scant name recognition and little in the way of a campaign coffer.
Horne and his proxies mocked Brnovich as an inexperienced newbie with zero chance of toppling the incumbent, particularly because Horne, a former Democrat, had taken pains to reinvent himself as a right-winger and anti-immigration stalwart.
As Horne's legal problems turned from bad to worse, Brnovich, literally limping throughout the campaign because of torn ligaments, slowly won over Republican voters sick of Horne's corruption.
Ultimately, he clobbered Horne by more than seven points in the primary. Still, pundits expected that Democratic nominee Felecia Rotellini easily would defeat Brnovich.
The pundits were wrong. On Election Day, Brnovich once again defied expectations, besting a tenacious, well-funded Democrat who'd come within 60,000 votes of beating Horne in 2010.
Helped by a Republican sweep and low turnout among Dems, Brnovich surpassed Rotellini by nearly six points.
As a result, Arizona now has one of the most unconventional office-holders in recent memory.
Unpretentious with a curious intellect, Brnovich likes to quote lines from Bob Dylan, The Clash, and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He counts Muhammad Ali, Barry Goldwater, and Robert F. Kennedy as personal heroes and is open to listening to liberals and Democrats while retaining a conservative worldview born of his Old World parentage.
And in a departure from the ordinary timorousness of modern politicos, he claims to be unafraid to tell you exactly what he thinks.
"People say all the time they want politicians who aren't programmed, who aren't robotic," says Brnovich with a smile. "Well, you got it now."
So who the hell is Mark Brnovich, and how did he get to be one of the most powerful individuals in Arizona?
Before delving into the first part of that question, let's clear up a few issues.
For instance, how exactly did he become such a devotee of the Grateful Dead, and why would anyone want to listen to the languid hippie act without the aid of marijuana?
Brnovich is a music buff whose tastes range from classic rock like the Rolling Stones and Bob Seger to '90s acts such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana, as well as newer country acts like Brad Paisley and Toby Keith.
But it was his freshman roommate at ASU, a white Rastafarian from Maryland named Mickey, who turned Brnovich onto the Dead.
"I was like, 'Grateful Dead? That's like drug and devil music, isn't it? I don't think I'm allowed to listen to that,'" says Brnovich, who admits to being "geeky" in high school and college.
"[Mickey] was really smart. He's like, 'No, man, this is almost like country.' And I don't know how much you know about the Dead, but they used to cover a lot of country. Merle Haggard's 'Mama Tried,' for example, is one song that's on the Skull and Roses album. And Hank Williams' 'You Win Again' is on the '72 live album."
Mickey dropped out of college to follow the Dead, Brnovich says. A friend later saw Mickey selling T-shirts and bracelets at a Dead show in Ohio.
With Mickey as a college roommate and an affinity for a seminal counterculture act -- he hopes to see the Dead this summer in Chicago for what guitarist Bob Weir claims will be the band's final three shows together -- certainly Brnovich must have been tempted to smoke a little bud.
Thing is, Brnovich says he already was thinking of going to law school and was fearful of doing anything to scotch his career or disappoint his mother, who was helping to put him through ASU from 1984 to 1988 (and, later, law school at the University of San Diego), working two jobs as a housekeeper.
(Brnovich kicked in by working as a security guard, and as a salesman at the old Goldwater's department store in the PV Mall, not far from where his family lived.)
"I didn't want to let her down," he says.
Also, he recalls, there was a stigma to doing drugs in the Ronald Reagan era.
However, as a libertarian-minded conservative skeptical of state power, Brnovich says he struggles with the issue of legalization of pot, which many anticipate will be on the Arizona ballot as an initiative in 2016.
Brnovich says he will "defend what the voters do," and when it comes to medical marijuana, he believes "the attorney general has an obligation to defend that."
But he urges caution -- a wait-and-see approach -- on full-scale legalization now that Colorado and other states have experimented with legalizing ganja.
"As someone who's attended Grateful Dead and Kid Rock concerts, I've seen people indulge and not everyone who does it becomes a hardcore addict," he says. "But there are social costs associated with it. And I just worry that once you open that up, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube."
Still, for a Republican law enforcement officer in Arizona at this moment in history, this is a forward-looking point of view.
Several factors from Brnovich's childhood have made him the kind of person he is: open-minded yet conservative and patriotic, passionate about history, able to poke fun of himself and others, and able to respect the other side of an argument.
These include his friends, his upbringing, his mother, and his immigrant heritage.
As a first-generation American whose parents came to this country from Communist Yugoslavia, Brnovich often mentions his Serbian background in speeches, noting that he spoke Serbo-Croatian before he spoke English.
During his inaugural speech, just after he was sworn in as attorney general, Brnovich choked up after thanking the crowd for allowing him to "live out the American dream."
He offered the following gee-whiz moment:
"Who'd have thought it: public school kid, Desert Cove elementary, Shadow Mountain [high school], son of immigrants who didn't speak English as his first language [as] your attorney general?"
His father's family was from Montenegro, in the former Yugoslavia. His mother hailed from a little town outside Split, Croatia, also part of Yugoslavia until Croatia declared its independence in 1991.
Brnovich's father died when he was in high school, and it's one of the few subjects he does not like to discuss.
His mother, Maria, was the formative influence on his life. After enduring World War II, she experienced communism under Yugoslav strongman Marshal Tito.
"She had her cousins who lived in Michigan," says Brnovich, "and she didn't speak a lick of English. Her parents were like, 'There's nothing for you here. You might as well roll the dice and go to America.'"
In Detroit, she met and married Brnovich's father. Brnovich was born in 1966, the youngest of four children, his older siblings all girls.
"That probably explains my need for attention," he says. "That's why I talk so fast, because I had to get my words in."
His father suffered from emphysema and breathing problems. The family moved to Arizona in hopes the dry climate would help.
Nevertheless, at the young age of 52, Brnovich's father died.
"We all have our burdens to bear," he says. "[But] I had such a strong, powerful mom. Not everyone has that."
His mother occasionally related anecdotes about her time in Yugoslavia that stuck with him, about ethnic strife and life in a communist regime.
"Something would happen," he recalls, "and she would be like, 'Oh, this reminds me of when I was a kid and my brother and I got arrested because we were accused of stealing from the government farm.'"
Her village was ethnically mixed, but during WWII, Croatian fascists called the Ustashi came to the village looking for Serbian families to kill.
The Ustashi modeled themselves after Italian fascists and German Nazis. The stated goal of the group was to ethnically cleanse Croatia of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies.
But her family's neighbors, who were Croatian, told the Ustashi that there were no Serbs around, thus helping to protect them.
Not everyone was so lucky.
All his life, Brnovich has attended Phoenix's St. Sava Serbian Orthodox church, near McKinley and 44th Streets.
The church, with its ornate, Byzantine interior, featuring colorful frescoes that illustrate passages from the life of Christ, was the site of Brnovich's marriage to Susan, now a Maricopa County Superior Court judge, as well as the baptisms of their two daughters, Milena, 13, and Sofija, 11.
St. Sava serves as a cultural center for the Serbian-American community in the Valley. Each November, the community celebrates Serb Fest, where musicians play a string instrument called the tamburitza, children dress in traditional Serbian garb, and revelers do shots of slivovitz (plum brandy) and dance a folk dance called the kolo.
Brnovich recalled one time when he gave one of his mother's friends a ride home from a church service.
There was a freak snowfall, the kind of light dusting that happens in Phoenix once in a rare winter, and the woman began to cry.
He asked her what was wrong. She said snow always reminded her of growing up in Yugoslavia and of a day during WWII when fascists came to her village. Her parents told her and her brother to run into the woods.
"They hid there until all the shooting was done," Brnovich remembers her telling him. "And when they came back, there were all these bodies in the river, all these dead people.
"She said, 'I never saw my mom or dad again.'"
Such experiences impressed upon Brnovich the importance of history.
"Our family, we weren't students of history; we lived it," he says. "When you're Slavic, history is so important . . . and there's this notion that you need to be engaged, because if you're not engaged, history will run you over."
Brnovich began engaging early in life. In July 1979, at age 12, he organized a small demonstration in his North Phoenix neighborhood to protest the building of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Tonopah.
Construction had begun on the plant a couple of years earlier, and nuclear power was controversial at the time.
The anti-nuke film The China Syndrome had been released in March 1979, just a few days before the partial meltdown of the nuclear reactors at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
As shown in an item in the now-defunct Paradise Valley News-Progress, Brnovich and two of his friends took to the streets, with Brnovich holding a sign that read, "Cut out nuclear energy," and his two buddies holding a larger one that screamed, "No! No! We won't glow!"
The future Republican critic of the Environmental Protection Agency and advocate of limited government told a News-Progress reporter that "harnessing the energy of the sun and the ocean should come before nuclear power."
In spite of this brief foray to the left of the political spectrum, his household's innate opposition to communism was simpatico with the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, who referred to the Soviet Union as "the Evil Empire" during the the Cold War.
"When I was coming of age, [President] Jimmy Carter was a candy-ass, right?" he asks rhetorically. "I thought he pretty much rolled over to the Soviets. Someone like Ronald Reagan came along [and] talked about the Soviet Union, [calling it] the Evil Empire. People who understood communism [said] he's speaking truth to power."
Brnovich, though opinionated, was not an ideologue, nor was he overtly politically active.
But he did love to debate those with whom he disagreed, including lifelong friends Marc Lamber and Jacques-Henri Munro, both of whom he met in elementary school.
Lamber, a Democrat and a lawyer with the Fennemore Craig firm in Phoenix, says he's known Brnovich since they were in second grade.
Along with another kid their age, Munro, with whom Brnovich shared a paper route, the trio have been a Valley version of the Three Musketeers.
"Jacques' dad had a billiards room," Lamber says. "And when other kids were going out, we'd meet in the billiards room, shoot pool, and we'd have the music turned up, and we'd debate every conceivable subject."
Brnovich had a conservative worldview, and Lamber leaned left. More importantly perhaps, Lamber was a fan of disco at a time when Brnovich and Munro were into the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, respectively.
"We've always had very different views," Lamber says, "but always have had a deep respect for each other. When we're together, to this day, it's like a time warp, and we can be kids again, laugh and discuss any subject."
Munro, now a Valley real estate broker, was on the debate team at Shadow Mountain High School with Brnovich.
He, Brnovich, and Lamber were not part of the in crowd and were not jocks. They were nerds.
Brnovich was on the chess team and in the Russian club. And both Munro and Lamber vividly remember Brnovich challenging their teachers, who were sometimes left-leaning.
"He used to argue with our history teacher," Munro says.
Lamber remembers how one teacher sometimes would defer to Brnovich on certain subjects.
As objective evidence of this, Brnovich's senior class yearbook featured a letter by his government teacher, Dave Lodico, that filled a whole page. Lodico praised Brnovich as a student and as an intense debater with a conservative bent.
"Being a 'leftist,' I expect people to back up statements, and you've been able to do that," Lodico wrote, adding, "Most of what you say is logical, and I think you believe it with conviction."
Coincidentally, Brnovich's future rival, Tom Horne, was on the Paradise Valley Unified School District board from 1978 to 2002, during the time Brnovich was attending district schools.
Lodico, now retired, says he managed Horne's first campaign for the school board, back when Horne was a "Harvard-educated, flaming-liberal Democrat."
Horne turned coat and became a Republican to run for the state Legislature.
At ASU, Brnovich studied political science and Munro double-majored in poli-sci and French literature, spending part of his college years in Paris studying business and international affairs at the Sorbonne.
Lamber studied biology for a year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, then finished his undergrad studies at the University of Arizona.
The pals continued to see each other, taking road trips together. Both Munro and Brnovich pledged a fraternity, Sigma Pi, which Brnovich called the "un-fraternity." At the time, the frat didn't have a house, he said.
"We didn't have any game," Brnovich says. "We'd mostly just get together and drink beer."
Aside from doing 12-ounce curls at such long-gone ASU watering holes as the Dash Inn and Cannery Row, Brnovich's college years offered a couple of indicators that he was meant for government service.
In his freshman year, Brnovich interned for then-Congressman John McCain at his Phoenix office. Brnovich remembers that McCain was "a nice guy" of whom he was in awe because of his war record.
"I remember asking him about Vietnam and being surprised that he didn't have more animosity," Brnovich says.
He also recalls accompanying McCain to a parade in eastern Arizona.
"I wore a tie, and I remember him saying something about not needing to wear ties outside Maricopa County," Brnovich says. "I took it off and still never wear one when I'm not in Maricopa or Pima [counties]."
Then there was Brnovich's appearance on the short-lived game show Trivia Trap, hosted by Bob Eubanks.
"They hit you with all kinds of trivia questions to see if you qualify to be on the show," says Lamber, who accompanied Brnovich on his tryout in Los Angeles. "He sat in a room of hundreds of people, and he was answering everything, almost instantaneously. Every question they asked, he knew."
Particularly the ones about government and history, Lamber recalls.
Brnovich made it on TV, but his three-person team of "Juniors" did not prevail. Instead, the rival team of "Seniors" advanced to the next round.
Ultimately, Brnovich graduated cum laude from ASU, then headed for Southern California to study law at the University of San Diego.
Partly because of his anti-communist upbringing, Brnovich became fascinated with property rights and enamored of the Chicago school of economics, which advocated laissez-faire capitalism.
At USD's law school, Brnovich became a research assistant for Professor Bernard Siegan, who had been nominated in 1987 by President Reagan to serve on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but was rejected by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
A 2006 New York Times obituary for Siegan noted that even some conservatives regarded him as a proponent of "judicial activism," albeit not of the left-wing variety.
"[Siegan] maintained that the Constitution protected what he called the 'economic liberties' of individuals," the Times wrote. "The courts, he argued, should return to their pre-New Deal stance of enforcing such liberties."
So it's no surprise that after six years with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and five years at the Arizona Attorney General's Office, Brnovich migrated to the conservative-libertarian Goldwater Institute, where he worked from 2003 to 2005 writing legal briefs and opinion pieces as director of the institute's Center for Constitutional Government.
The think tank's worldview dovetailed with his, and while at the GI, he advocated against perceived government intrusion into the private sector, applying his legal philosophy to real-world situations.
For example, there was his opposition to a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants, which Brnovich blasted in an op-ed as "an attack on freedom and an attack on property rights."
Such a prohibition might be okay for government buildings, he argued, but government should not be able to dictate such a policy to private establishments.
"Even if a majority of Arizonans favors the ban, that does not change the basic fact that a ban violates the rights of property owners," Brnovich wrote at the time.
In 2006, the Arizona electorate voted for such a ban. Brnovich still believes he was right, in spite of the obvious ill effects of secondhand smoke.
"There already was a huge trend against smoking," he says. "The market would have sorted it all out."
At Goldwater, Brnovich opposed public financing of political campaigns via the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. He also fought an Arizona ban on direct wine sales to consumers, and was critical of the use of eminent domain by state and local governments.
His affiliation with the GI continues to this day, and he is friends with the institute's Clint Bolick, an early supporter of his challenge to Horne.
As a politician, his work with the institute cut both ways. Tea Party types approved, but it killed any chance of scoring the endorsement of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the powerful police union.
PLEA and the institute are enemies. So far, the institute has argued successfully in court that PLEA's contract with the city of Phoenix violates the Arizona Constitution's gift ban. As a result, PLEA's city-funded largesse was cut in half.
"No matter what I did as a prosecutor," Brnovich says, "and the fact I never took any position ever on anything to do with that union stuff, [PLEA's leaders] were like, hey, you're buddies with [Bolick], you worked at Goldwater -- guilt by association."
Other aspects of Brnovich's résumé drew fire from political opponents, such as his former ties to private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America, which he worked for as a lobbyist from 2005 to 2007.
During the general election, Rotellini hit Brnovich with a tough TV ad, criticizing him for lobbying against a bill that would have prevented private prisons in Arizona from housing violent offenders from out of state.
The ad blamed Brnovich for a 2010 prison break by three inmates from a private prison outside Kingman, which resulted in the carjacking and killing of an Oklahoma couple by one of the escapees.
But the attack backfired on Rotellini. The three inmates mentioned in the ad were Arizona-sentenced convicts, so Brnovich's opposition to the law, which never passed, could not be blamed for the incident.
During the campaign, Brnovich pointed out that he did not take donations from private prison execs (unlike Rotellini) and that the Obama administration has made extensive use of private prisons to house undocumented immigrants.
None of this will placate the many opponents of private prisons, who see the very concept as inherently nefarious.
Still, Brnovich claims that as long as Arizona has determinative sentencing, with fixed punishments meted out, there will be a need for private prisons.
He says he refuses to let his gig with CCA define him.
"I delivered the Arizona Republic for longer than I worked for CCA," he cracks, "but no one asks me about the circulation problems at the Republic."
Certainly, Brnovich's time as a prosecutor for the county, the state, and the feds, is more impressive than his time with CCA, though Rotellini, counterintuitively, attempted to use Brnovich's prosecutorial experience against him.
Rotellini, who lacked such extensive criminal experience, observed that the AG's Office deals mostly with civil matters, along with complex litigation regarding such issues as consumer fraud.
"Mr. Brnovich is running for county attorney," Rotellini tweeted at one point in the campaign. "That's not the jurisdiction of the Attorney General's Office."
The Brnovich camp viewed this as a tactical error, one that called attention to Brnovich's experience in putting criminals behind bars.
"Who would you rather have as the state's AG?" replied Ryan Anderson, Brnovich's campaign manager and now his top communications guy. "A banking regulator like Rotellini or someone who's gone toe-to-toe with really bad guys."
Some of the highlights of Brnovich's career as a county prosecutor include nailing gangbangers for drive-by shootings.
It was at the MCAO that he met his wife, Susan, who prosecuted crimes against children. Though a Republican, she was appointed to the Superior Court bench by Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano.
In 1998, Attorney General Grant Woods hired Brnovich as an assistant attorney general. There, Brnovich worked on gaming compacts with Arizona tribes, represented the Arizona Department of Gaming in court, and became an expert on gambling and the law.
After his time with Goldwater and CCA, Brnovich nabbed a prestigious assignment as an assistant U.S. Attorney for Arizona, where he served under Diane Humetewa, now a U.S. District Court judge.
Once again, Brnovich's focus was on gambling crime, as well as on other crime in Indian country.
In 2008, he prosecuted one of the largest employee thefts in Arizona history, the embezzlement of more than $664,000 from the Tohono O'odham Nation's Desert Diamond Casino.
And he was co-counsel on a notable case involving the botched heist at Casino Arizona by a group of Bosnians who had come to the United States as refugees from the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and ended up on the wrong side of the law.
With details that included a decoy van, a sewer escape route, and cheesy disguises, the case resembled a cross between Ocean's Eleven and The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
As Brnovich tells it, he got to use his language skills and knowledge of the Balkans during the case.
"I remember there was a witness [whom] I frickin' blew away because he was bullshitting some story [during an interview]," he says. "I looked at the guy and started talking to him in Serbo-Croatian.
"I saw the shocked look on his face. I said, 'Look, man, this is the federal government. Don't fuck with us.'"
In many ways, the U.S. Attorney's Office was Brnovich's dream job.
"I loved it," he says. "I got a chill up my spine the first time I went to court and said, 'Mark Brnovich appearing on behalf of the United States.'"
But there also was heartburn, like when he had to butt heads with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office over the prosecution of County Schools Superintendent Sandra Dowling.
Dowling had been targeted by the county Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Joe Arpaio on allegations of nepotism, misusing public funds, and bid-rigging.
Attorney General Terry Goddard slammed Dowling with a multi-count felony indictment based on the MCSO's probe.
But this was the era when Arpaio and his former deputy chief, David Hendershott, were running roughshod over the Constitution, pursuing their political enemies willy-nilly.
When they got around to investigating Goddard on a bogus claim, Goddard farmed out the Dowling case to the U.S. Attorney's Office, where it fell into Brnovich's lap.
Problem was, the investigation had no merit, and the U.S. Attorney's Office ended up offering Dowling a plea deal of just one misdemeanor count, involving the hiring of her daughter.
Brnovich declined to discuss the Dowling case with New Times, but sources with knowledge of it suggest that Arpaio and Hendershott wanted Brnovich to pursue felony counts despite the lack of evidence.
Hendershott was deposed during Dowling's unsuccessful lawsuit against Arpaio and the Board of Supervisors.
Court records describe Hendershott as "harshly critical of the U.S.Attorney's Office alleged failure to conduct the investigation that the MCSO investigators were recommending they conduct."
Specifically, Hendershott lambasted a "rookie" prosecutor for not doing what he wanted. The "rookie" was Mark Brnovich.
There are other indications that Brnovich has a spine.
During the primary, Brnovich secured the endorsement of his benefactor, Governor Brewer, who had appointed him gaming director in 2009, hiring him away from the feds.
In August, Brewer was preparing to announce her endorsement of Mesa Mayor Scott Smith for governor. The plan was to have a rally in Mesa at the Chicago Cubs' spring training facility, with everyone Brewer had endorsed in the primary on hand.
There was only one no-show at the event: Brnovich.
Brnovich also declined to discuss this matter, but sources close to the players involved say Brnovich had been ordered to attend but did not want to be part of a Brewer slate out of fear of alienating those who might vote for him.
One source says Brewer continued to support Brnovich, mainly because the candidate explained to her before the event his reason for not attending.
Another example: In late 2013, it was thought that Horne was defeatable in the next primary because of his ethical and legal woes.
Brnovich's name was floated as a possible contender, and Brnovich, disgusted with Horne's shenanigans -- the lawbreaking, the hit-and-run, the extramarital affair with a staffer -- was kicking the political tires.
That's when he says he got a call from a prosecutor at the AG's Office, someone he knew from his days at the MCAO.
The man asked whether he would run, and Brnovich said he was considering it.
He remembers the man saying, "'Well, this isn't the Goldwater Institute. Politics is nasty.' Then he basically told me that my career and my reputation would be destroyed if I ran against Tom Horne."
The man floated a bit of innuendo, something Brnovich knew was not true.
"Once it's out there, it's out there, whether it's true or not," the guy said.
Then, he asked Brnovich whether his wife and family would be all right with his decision.
"I was like, 'This call is done,'" he remembers. "I told Susan that this is what they do in communist countries . . . God bless my wife. She [said] , 'You know, you've got to do this.'"
Brnovich smiles, "I was like, this is so on."
No wonder that when he met with former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams at the Arrogant Butcher in downtown Phoenix, Brnovich seemed rarin' to go.
Adams, current chief of staff for Governor Doug Ducey, had run for Congress and lost in a brutal 2012 primary against Matt Salmon.
So in 2013, when Brnovich asked him what he thought of his chances, Adams shot straight.
"I did just about everything I could to talk him out of the race," Adams tells New Times in his office on the ninth floor of the Capitol's Executive Tower.
"When people consider running for office, they get a lot of smoke blown their way about how great they are, how they can win this. I wanted him to know the good, the bad, and the ugly.
"At the end, [Brnovich] says [slapping his hand down for emphasis], 'So you gonna be on Team Brno?'"
Adams acted as Brnovich's informal adviser, the "candidate whisperer," as Brnovich calls him.
But not many gave Brnovich a chance as he began to criss-cross the state, speaking to skeptical crowds of Republicans, wearing out the tires on his car, and bringing in precious few campaign contributions.
In October 2013, the Capitol Times paraphrased Horne supporter Chuck Coughlin of HighGround Public Affairs, the King Kong of Arizona campaign consultants, as saying Brnovich "simply can't win the primary."
Come January 2014, a few pundits gave Brnovich a chance against Horne, but most agreed that he could not compete with a well-funded, well-rested Felecia Rotellini in the general election.
That month, on Channel 8's Horizon, two of the three journalists on a roundtable thought Brnovich could defeat Horne. But all three believed Rotellini would rebuff Brnovich in November.
Also in January, Brnovich heeded the advice of several people telling him he should get in better physical shape.
"I realize now more than ever that God does not want me to exercise," says Brnovich, who almost immediately pulled a muscle in his foot, or so he thought at the time.
It was painful, but he decided to "power through," and it kept getting worse. When he finally had it checked, his doctor told him he had torn a tendon in his right foot and that must stay off it for it to heal.
"I'm like, 'I'm running for office. I can't stay off my foot,'" he says. "I told them just give me some cortisone injections. I had to keep going."
The shots wore off, though, and his doctor wanted to put him in a cast. He went to a specialist, who designed a special orthopedic device to keep his foot immobilized.
Still, he was in constant pain, and his foot blew up at night to the size of a small watermelon after spending all day walking around.
After he clobbered Horne and Rotellini at the polls, he learned that the damage to his foot was more severe than he thought.
"They had to cut off part of my bone and do a bone graft," he says. "I had to get a cadaver bone put in there. So I was joking with my doctor, I said I'm hoping that [the donor was a] martial artist or somebody who can kick ass. Like Bruce Lee."
Brnovich says he admires anyone who "kicks ass," like Muhammad Ali, whom he quoted on Election Night, borrowing the heavyweight champ's line, "We shook up the world!"
It's also the reason the first photo he put on his office wall was that of Bobby Kennedy, the slain Democratic U.S. Attorney General and presidential candidate.
"People forget that he was a hardcore anti-communist and that he [took on] the Mafia," Brnovich says of RFK. "He was a fighter."
Another Republican attorney general had a picture of Bobby Kennedy on the wall of his office: Brnovich's former boss, Grant Woods, who served from 1991 to 1999.
Speaking with New Times, Woods says he has "high hopes" for Brnovich, that Brnovich has the potential to be a "great, not just good" attorney general.
Woods stayed neutral during the general election, though four years earlier, he had supported Rotellini over Horne. He deplores the damage done by Horne to the Attorney General's Office.
"I think my résumé's been devalued," he jokes. "I didn't think that would happen at this stage in my life."
Woods urged Brnovich to "fight for the little guy" and not get hung up on bashing Obama or pursuing lawsuits like the one Horne joined before he left office, an action challenging the president's recent executive order on immigration.
Brnovich has been on Fox News of late to defend the lawsuit, as one of the 26 attorneys general across the country who support it. And yet he says he believes passionately in immigration reform and is sympathetic, as the son of an immigrant, to the plight of the undocumented.
"The day people stop trying to come to this country is the day we'll know something's wrong," he says.
Brnovich may get his chance sooner rather than later to live up to these words. In late January, Governor Doug Ducey moved two hot-button immigration cases -- on driver's licenses for DREAMers and on remnants of Arizona's immigration law, Senate Bill 1070 -- to the Attorney General's Office.
Under Brewer, both lawsuits were handled by expensive outside counsel, instead of the AG's Office, which usually is tasked with such matters.
Brnovich has said he's reviewing both cases.
Does Brnovich want to signal that a new day has arrived in Arizona?
Will he live up to the promise of his immigrant roots and dump these two legal disasters?
And finally, is it possible that a Republican who's been harshly critical of President Obama's immigration policy would risk rattling his base by doing the right thing?
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Heck, Brnovich rattled the base by challenging Horne in the first place.
Not to mention Brnovich's denunciation of wingnut racist Russell Pearce during the primary, for Pearce's comments on the forced sterilization of poor women.
As for the other questions concerning what Brnovich might do, a favorite saying of Arizona's new AG's is worth invoking here: "Hey, man, don't bet against the Brno."