Democrat Felecia Rotellini said voters shouldn't elect Republican Tom Horne as attorney general because he's a career politician who committed securities fraud.
In a no-holds-barred debate Wednesday night, Rotellini hammered away at Horne's admission that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred him for from trading for life.
"I've prosecuted securities fraud, he's committed it,'' said Rotellini, a former assistant attorney general and superintendent of the Department of Financial Institutions under former Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Horne called that 40-year-old news, saying he has been rated for years by a professional legal organization as "highly ethical.'' And he called her accusations of his offenses "a distortion.''
"I never defrauded anyone,'' Horne said after the debate, which was televised on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate.
"We had bad records,'' he continued, saying he was the victim of computerizing very early in the technology.
But Horne sidestepped the question of whether anyone ever lost money from his activities.
Rotellini said she does not believe that the number of years that have passed in the interim is relevant when he is trying to be elected as the state's top civil and criminal prosecutor.
"How is he ever going to empathize with victims when he's going to have to go after folks that are in the same shoes as he is?'' she said.
"This isn't mud-slinging,'' she said. "This is truth-telling.''
Rotellini also said Horne's efforts to portray anything in his past as ancient history ignores something more recent: After coming to Arizona, he failed to disclose as required on state forms that he had filed for bankruptcy.
But Horne said Rotellini has no reason to boast about her experience.
"She did a terrible job managing banking,'' Horne said. "We had the worst case in Arizona of bad mortgages while she was supposed to be regulating them.''
He claimed a Phoenix law firm informed both the Attorney General's Office and Rotellini's agency in 2006 that Mortgages Limited was engaged in improper financial practices.
"She ignored it, she did nothing,'' Horne said. "Eventually a lot of people lost their life savings because of that kind of neglect.''
And he said she was so busy going to conventions "she wasn't paying attention to business.''
Rotellini said Mortgages Limited was engaged in securities fraud before the firm went bankrupt, which was not the purview of the Department of Financial Institutions.
Some of the debate focused on the state's new immigration law, with the pair sparing over who was more interested in curtailing people coming across the border illegally.
Horne promised to make defending the law the absolute top priority if he is elected, above all else.
"People are really fed up with the federal government not doing its job,'' he said. "They neglect it, and then they sue us to stop us from doing something about it.''
Rotellini denied she ever opposed SB 1070. Instead, she said concerns she expressed were because she doesn't believe the law, designed to give state and local police more power to detain and question suspected illegal immigrants, goes far enough.
"It doesn't stop illegal immigration, it doesn't secure our border,'' she said. But Rotellini said she will defend the law in court if she is elected.
"Border security is my No. 1 priority, period,'' she said.
Horne, however, said he believes Rotellini would be little more than a "point person for the Obama administration.''
He also said that, aside from trial experience, he has something else she does not: A track record of going to court to fight for the state.
That stems from an ongoing lawsuit against Arizona by parents who said the state is not meeting its obligation to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn English. A federal judge eventually ordered the state to begin paying fines.
When the Attorney General's Office did not fight the court orders, Horne intervened in the case, eventually getting the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate the fines after ruling the trial judge may have overstepped.
That case is now back before U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins in Tucson.