On the day he took his oath of office, Mark Brnovich showed up on stage with a cast on his right leg and a scooter.
He had undergone surgery a few weeks before to repair torn ligaments in his right foot, which he suffered while on the campaign trail. But of all the statewide officers, the new attorney general probably has the lowest bar to clear in 2015: Don’t get into controversies as crippling as those that his predecessor, Tom Horne, was embroiled in.
Attorney Kory Langhofer said if people were asked before Brnovich took his oath what his most important goal is, they would have said restoring dignity to the Attorney General’s Office.
“On that front, Mark has been very successful,” Langhofer said. “He has not been caught in personal scandals. He has not campaigned from the office, and he is working within this network of right-leaning attorneys general nationally and seems to be well regarded within that circle.”
The trickier goal, of course, wasn’t just to restore the public’s confidence in the Attorney General’s Office, but also to raise the morale of the public servants inside that office.
“I inherited a great office,” Brnovich told the Arizona Capitol Times a few days before Christmas. “I think morale needed to be improved, and people, once again, needed to get back into understanding and appreciating how important our mission is, and I think that we’ve been able to do that.”
By and large, 2015 was a solid year for the state’s chief law enforcement officer. He inherited high-profile cases, such as litigation over whether Dreamers can get a driver’s license, an issue that he’s still vigorously fighting in court, as well as a defense of the last remaining major component of SB1070, the anti-illegal immigration law.
As he promised on the campaign trail, Brnovich didn’t shy away from taking on the federal government. He joined the fight against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to drastically reduce carbon emissions in the country, arguing the federal agency is making a “serious power grab” and an illegal expansion of its authority.
That’s not to say his first year has been completely smooth-sailing. For example, his office released an opinion that critics quickly lambasted as tantamount to authorizing public officials to abuse the use of public election dollars and would lead to the proliferation of government propaganda. However, he backtracked from it and issued a new opinion, which won his critics’ approval.
Brnovich encountered a few political landmines. When Gov. Doug Ducey proposed the creation of a statewide inspector general who would report to the governor, Brnovich protested, saying it’s redundant given the functions of his office. But unlike the governor’s feud with other statewide officers, it didn’t escalate into a full blown controversy. Both the attorney general and the governor seemed content to let the subject go, at least for now.
The Republican attorney general surprised many when he decided to investigate a conflict-of-interest allegation against Corporation Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith, also a Republican. He concluded that she was illegally holding her post, and then asked the Arizona Supreme Court to remove her from office.
The pressure that Brnovich’s actions created ultimately forced Bitter Smith to announce her resignation.