January Contreras is the Democratic candidate for the Arizona Attorney General. Contreras has worked as a state and county prosecutor, served as a policy advisor to former Governor Janet Napolitano in Arizona, and continued working with Napolitano in Washington after the governor became Secretary of Homeland Security. She recently appeared on Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel. This is an edited and condensed transcript of that interview.
Why did you decide to run for Attorney General?
If you look at my life’s work of service, you’ll know why I’ve decided to run for Attorney General. I’m a mom, I’m a fourth-generation Arizonan, I’m a two-time Wildcat. I’ve been a county prosecutor, a state prosecutor, worked for Gov. Napolitano for a dozen years. I’ve been around long enough to know what good governments look like and what I see right now is that the eighth-grade lessons of checks and balances that we learned so long ago, it just doesn’t exist right now in Arizona. So, we need to bring that balance back so that policy is not being driven by dark-money donors, but policy is being driven by what do the people need, what are the ways we solve big problems. And the Attorney General’s Office really matters in those decisions right now.
We have a new twist in this legal battle over the Affordable Care Act. Several Republican-controlled states filed a lawsuit saying that the law was unconstitutional because the individual mandate—the requirement that people buy health insurance—was stripped out of it by Republican lawmakers last year with the budget plan. The Trump administration is now throwing in the towel on this lawsuit and saying that they agree with the red states that have brought this lawsuit. What did you think of this lawsuit from the states?
Well, let’s start with we wouldn’t have a problem right now today—where millions of Arizonans could lose healthcare coverage, could lose coverage because they have a preexisting health condition—but for Mark Brnovich and his counterparts with a very partisan agenda suing to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. That’s where the problem started. Where we go now is that we have the Department of Justice at the national level saying, “Well, we don’t like the Affordable Care Act so much, either. We’re not going to defend the majority of it.” It really left people jolted, if you noticed. People who didn’t understand that the Affordable Care Act is the only thing that covers that gap, or the donut hole, for the seniors that have Medicare for their prescription drugs. It’s the only thing that guarantees for parents to have their young adults on their policy. It’s the only thing that lends coverage for many, many people, especially those with a pre-existing condition. All that, out the window because many attorney generals offices around the country, including this one right here, is being led by this partisan agenda. They’re couching it in legal terms, but this is really a political fight. It’s one of the problems with the Attorney General’s Office right now. The leadership is so focused on what are the political issues of the day at the national level, and how to show partisan chops, instead of focusing on how to protect the people right here, because taking away their health care sure isn’t protecting them.
Attorney General Brnovich has carried on a long legal fight to deny driver’s licenses to Dreamers. What did you think of that?
It was a lot of tax payer money spent on an indefensible case. I mean, that’s the bottom line. Arizona, defended by Mark Brnovich, was trying to be the only state in the country to not issue driver’s licenses to young people with DACA. These are kids who have the legal right to live and work here from Homeland Security, and it was appealed and appealed and Brnovich took it all the way to the United States Supreme Court for the Supreme Court to say, “No, we’re not taking this case. There is no case here.” It’s frustrating to watch, both as a lawyer and as someone who knows how limited the resources are. We’re not flush with cash as a state. So, when you see the government wasting taxpayer money on litigation that is only political—because that case was not defensible—it’s quite frustrating. And just the whole partisan part, where you keep going after these kids with DACA, who have the legal right to live and work here, it’s a little mindboggling. These are people who have grown up here, they’ve gone to school with our kids. Now some of them are teachers. The courts put a stop to it, and that’s what I mean when I say that the courts and the lawyers matter more than ever right now. That means the AG matters.
Does the state’s medical marijuana program give you any heartburn?
No. I mean the people of Arizona passed it and the Department of Health Services and law enforcement have come together to try to create an administration of the medical marijuana system that both protects public health and public safety. We’ve seen some hiccups here or there, but not any major ones. I have met quite a few people on this campaign who speak to the difference that it’s made in their life to have that as an option for some pretty chronic illnesses. I think we need to make sure that we’re doing our best to protect public health and public safety and keeping the will of the voters in place.