Candidates for Arizona attorney general debate

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PHOENIX (AP) -- The candidates for Arizona attorney general sparred in a debate Tuesday night over who has the best qualifications to become the state's next top law enforcement officer.

Republican Mark Brnovich touted his credentials as a prosecutor who has tried criminal cases in both state and federal court and said he'll push back against what he called the overreach of the Obama administration. He's a former deputy county attorney and assistant U.S. attorney.

"Folks expect someone with experience because the stakes are too high," Brnovich said in the televised debate. "With everything going on in this country and the Obama administration about to grant amnesty to millions of people we need an attorney general to push back against the federal government."

Democrat Felecia Rotellini touted her background handling complex civil litigation as an assistant attorney general and superintendent of the state banking department, called Brnovich an ideologue who will bring partisan politics to the office. She cited an email he sent to backers saying he would be "the pro-life" attorney general.

"Mr. Brnovich is talking about street crime, not the types of crimes that are prosecuted in the attorney general's office. Most of the attorney general's office does is on the civil side, representing state agencies," Rotellini said. "He has the backing of the Cathi Herrod's, the Center for Arizona Policy, the anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigration groups that are hopeful that he'll get in there. Because they need someone like him who will do their bidding."

The attorney general is the state's top law enforcement officer and represents state agencies, taking on civil rights, consumer protection and complex business fraud. Brnovich defeated incumbent Republican Tom Horne in last month's primary election. Rotellini ran against Horne in 2010 and lost.

Rotellini won the endorsement of the state's top newspaper Tuesday, with the Arizona Republic calling it a "close call" while saying Rotellini's style was more suited to the office.

The candidates also sparred over Brnovich's lobbying on behalf of private prisons. Rotellini cited his efforts to kill legislation that would ban companies from bringing violent criminals into Arizona from other states.

"Mr. Brnovich can't get around the fact that his judgment was such that for a profit, for his own economic profit, he thought it was better to kill a piece of legislation that would (block) killers, rapists, into the state of Arizona," she said.

Brnovich defended private prisons, saying they free up state prison construction money for other uses.

"I have spent most of my career putting people in prison, and yes I've worked for the Corrections Corporation of American to keep people there," he said. This isn't a partisan issue. Both Democratic and Republican governors have used private prisons in order to incarcerate individuals."

He attacked Rotellini for taking contributions from Dennis DeConcini, who was on Corrections Corporations' board until May.

"She's comfortable taking money from the private prisons but now she wants to criticize Arizona for using them," he said.

"That's making a big assumption, that simply because I get a contribution from somebody that means I'm somehow going to be beholden to them," Rotellini said while noting that she has thousands of contributors.

Both candidates said they would fight proposed Environmental Protection Agency carbon emission rules that would hurt the state's coal-fired power plants, and both pledged to fight Mexican cartels that smuggle people and drugs into Arizona.