Prior to this week, two conservative candidates for Maricopa County Attorney had dodged questions on their views on the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County.
That changed Monday when the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors released answers to its questionnaire for Republican candidates. The board asked candidates if they agreed with the county's decision to certify the election results, an acknowledgment that whoever gets picked will represent the board in legal matters.
All three Republican candidates — including Gina Godbehere and Anni Foster, who had initially avoided answering the question — said the board did not err in certifying the election results.
The questionnaire is meant to help the board of supervisors select an interim county attorney to fill the vacancy left by Allister Adel, who resigned at the end of March. That's until a new top prosecutor is elected this fall.
The county announced last week it would select the person to serve in the temporary position from the three conservative candidates in the race — Godbehere, Foster, and Rachel Mitchell. The board of supervisors could decide as soon as Wednesday.
Existing law requires that anyone appointed to the interim position be part of the same political party as the predecessor. Adel was a registered Republican.
Still, the Democratic candidate for county attorney, Julie Gunnigle, has criticized the county for deciding to choose an interim attorney from a slate of people campaigning for the office, instead of someone independent. "The board of supervisors is putting their thumb on a contested primary," she told Phoenix New Times last week.
Now, one of the three conservative candidates will go into the primary election as an incumbent, instead of a newcomer, which is widely seen as a significant advantage, especially if the race is tight.
The county held in-person interviews Monday, a spokesperson said, and released the candidates' answers to the questionnaires that evening. The second question of three dealt with the 2020 presidential election in the county and the seemingly endless, and baseless, allegations of fraud that it inspired.
"It is important to note that the long-awaited attorney general's report, issued 18 months after the election, still does not outline evidence of widespread fraud," wrote Godbehere, a longtime MCAO prosecutor, and prosecutor for the city of Goodyear, in response.
When asked the same question by Arizona's Family just weeks earlier, Godbehere had said, "It's not proper to sit there when I haven't read all the details and the facts to give an opinion one way or another."
Meanwhile, Foster, who is currently general counsel for Governor Doug Ducey, wrote in response: "As your counselor and advocate, I would continue the vigorous defense of the County's actions ... in the 2020 elections." Like Godbehere, she had previously avoided answering the question when confronted by media.
Some in the Arizona GOP are not taking the news well.
"Can we say gutless? That's all I needed to know," wrote one user on Telegram, in response to a post by EZAZ.org, a Phoenix-based conservative advocacy group, highlighting the candidates' answers. "Spineless," another wrote.
Mitchell, a prosecutor who has worked her way up through the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for more than 30 years, was the only Republican candidate who has consistently denied the election fraud claims.
She emphasized her views again in her questionnaire, writing: "I take the protection of our democracy seriously and if appointed, will make this a priority as your legal counsel."
It's noteworthy that Godbehere took a different tack when answering questions about "election integrity" in a survey distributed by EZAZ.org.
"As we have seen in previous years, elections have not always gone smoothly," Godbehere wrote in that previous answer, saying the county had "had problems" in 2018. She went on to say that she would create an "Election Integrity Task Force" and "root out any potential problems and ensure that in Maricopa County we will have fair elections."
The questionnaires are revealing in other ways, too. In them, the three candidates outline their priorities for the office and the ways they would combat understaffing in the office.
Mitchell submitted a five-page response to the county's questions. Among her top priorities, she wrote, are rebuilding the office's relationship with local law enforcement, and "strengthen[ing] oversight" of the county attorney's seat, and eliminating the backlog of cases in the office.
The latter she plans to accomplish by conducting a "full review" of the charging processes, looking at "technology solutions," and updating staff assignments to lower caseloads to address the problem, even if employee shortage continues.
Mitchell also noted she would focus on reversing the understaffing currently plaguing the office. "The handling of protest cases and other negative/inaccurate media coverage," she wrote, referring to the bogus "ACAB" gang charges prosecutors leveled against protesters last year, had harmed morale. Better oversight of prosecutions was needed, she said.
Mitchell's campaign did not immediately answer questions about what "inaccurate" media coverage she was referring to, though MCAO has been the subject of plenty of media scrutiny during Adel's short tenure at the office.
Foster and Godbehere gave similar answers. Foster wrote that her key focus was to "bring public confidence and stability to the office." Godbehere emphasized a focus on "community trust, law enforcement trust, and employee trust" as her key priorities.
On their face, the conservatives' answers are not too different from Gunnigle's promises to fix the office. But the Democrat has argued that longtime MCAO bureaucrats are not equipped to bring the kind of change needed in the office.
Now that the county has completed its interviews and received the questionnaires, the board of supervisors is deliberating on a potential appointee.
Fields Moseley, a spokesperson for the county, told New Times the board plans to hold a special executive session Wednesday morning to deliberate, and may vote on the issue immediately afterward, if there are no remaining questions.