One of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s top deputies has political ambitions, he said during a coffee shop conversation overheard by Phoenix New Times.
Major Crimes Division Chief Jon Eliason said he is debating whether he wants to seek an appointment to Montgomery's office if his boss gets tapped for a soon-to-be-vacant state Supreme Court seat.
Eliason, a Republican, spoke with Phoenix Children's Museum CEO Kate Wells on Tuesday morning about his political aspirations during a meeting at Street Coffee on North Seventh Street. A reporter for New Times sat at an adjacent table, recording the conversation while taking notes on his laptop.
Eliason told Wells that Montgomery — who recently tried and failed to make the shortlist for an Arizona Supreme Court appointment — may apply for another seat currently held by Justice Scott Bales, who plans to step down at the end of June.
If Governor Doug Ducey were to appoint Montgomery to the Supreme Court seat, that would leave it up to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to appoint a replacement for Montgomery.
Eliason hinted to Wells that an appointment would be his best shot for Maricopa County Attorney. He told Wells that he hopes to make connections with county supervisors in the next few months, as he does not currently know its members well.
"The way the county government is, we don’t interact," Eliason said.
Wells said she also doesn't know the five county supervisors well, but could potentially put Eliason in touch with someone who does.
She suggested Eliason speak with Bryan Jeffries, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona. Wells also suggested Bettina Nava, a partner at OH Strategic Communications who worked on Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, as a potential contact.
During his conversation with Wells, Eliason said there are other prosecutors in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office office who may mount a bid for the top seat.
"There are like three or four other people," Eliason said. "All of them are Republican."
Eliason mentioned Rachel Mitchell as someone interested in leading the county attorney's office. Mitchell, the head of the county's sex crimes unit, became nationally recognized in September when U.S. Congressional Republicans tapped her to question Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh.
Mitchell's presence and performance during the hearing were widely criticized. She was spoofed on Saturday Night Live by fellow Arizonan Aidy Bryant.
Eliason and Wells also spoke about the challenges facing candidates running for office in 2020. Eliason, a former Mesa city prosecutor, said he could count on a base of support in the east Valley.
"But the west side," Eliason said.
"They don't vote," Wells said.
Wells brought up the question of whether law firms could benefit from supporting the right candidate for county attorney.
"Here’s the thing. It would in this way," Eliason said. "The county has millions of dollars of contracts."
Wells then mentioned a name — it's indecipherable in the recording — who could potentially provide a list of law firms. She told Eliason that the person would be more likely to give the list to him because he is a Republican, rather than a Democrat.
Wells said that any candidate's messaging with regards to President Donald Trump will be crucial in the next election.
"I think you’re either in or you’re out,” Wells said. "There’s no straddle.”
The two considered whether another year would be more ideal for a political run.
"Maybe this is just the wrong time to do this," Eliason said. "There’s no way you can be a Republican and say ..."
"You don’t support the president," Wells interjected.
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Eliason declined to comment when the New Times reporter introduced himself.
“I don’t really want to talk," he said. "Is that all right?”
According to a 2014 online biography, Eliason is a career prosecutor who supervises several units in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. He sits on numerous boards and commissions, including the Governor’s Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women, the Arizona Forensic Academy, and the Arizona Foundation for Women board. He has a Bachelor's of Science from Brigham Young University and a law degree from Temple University.
Eliason did not respond to a follow-up email.