Julie Gunnigle, the Democratic candidate for Maricopa County prosecutor in Arizona, may well be one of the state's last hopes for democracy as we know it, which means she could be one of the last hopes for the country's democracy as we know it.
If elected, Gunnigle will bear responsibility for upholding fair and equal justice at one of the most granular levels in Arizona — leading cases in the nation’s third largest public prosecutorial office. But given the outsize role Arizona plays in our politics these days, her work could potentially have an impact on the rest of the country, as well.
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Gunnigle’s office, for example, would be tasked with prosecuting — or declining to prosecute — cases stemming from the 150-plus-year-old abortion ban conservative lawmakers successfully pushed a judge to reinstate this summer after the demise of Roe v. Wade. And with Arizona Republicans looking to outlaw everything from certain kinds of voting to certain forms of education, there’s no telling what sorts of referrals might make it to Gunnigle’s desk if she's elected.
That’s why this race is so important. It has pit Gunnigle against incumbent right-winger Rachel Mitchell, an effective stand-in for the conservative movement’s legal priorities, in a state that has become the epicenter in the United States' fight for democracy itself — a state that has seen the pitfalls of archconservative law enforcement.
After Gunnigle’s appearance on "The ReidOut" last month, I chatted with her on the phone about her thoughts on some key issues ahead of Election Day. Check it out!
Gunnigle, an Arizona native who cut her teeth prosecuting public corruption cases in Illinois, said Arizona’s beleaguered education system motivated her to get into politics.
“We have people who are just openly voting our kids’ education dollars into the hands of private prisons and vouchers,” she told me, noting she would take a close look at potential acts of government corruption if elected next month.
Reports in Arizona have noted the windfall of public funds funneled to private prisons in comparison to the pittance given to public schools. Arizona, notably, has one of the worst education systems in the country.
Gunnigle has prioritized support for abortion rights throughout her campaign, and denounced arcane abortion bans her opponent’s party has enacted in recent months.
Mitchell, seemingly sensing fierce backlash to those laws, has been noncommittal about whether she’d prosecute abortion seekers or medical providers of abortions deemed illegal by a state law enacted in 1864. The Phoenix New Times published this detailed report on her shifting stance as to whether people involved with abortions should be prosecuted.
Gunnigle spoke about imposing a “complete reprioritization” of the prosecutor’s office to engender more trust from Arizonans skeptical of the office’s ability to investigate and try sex crimes.
Several hundred neglected rape allegations cast a pall on right-wing law enforcement in Maricopa County during Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s tenure and in the time since.
Mitchell’s time as a prosecutor largely overlapped with Arpaio’s time as sheriff, although the two offices are technically separate. The Washington Post reported she served on a team that helped clean up the backlog of rape cases, for what it’s worth. But her history handling sexual assault allegations is checkered. She was also, infamously, handpicked by Republicans to badger Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school, during Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2018. (Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.)
Referencing that testimony in our conversation, Gunnigle cited disturbing and frequent reports of sexual assault on Arizona State University’s main campus, saying prosecuting such crimes requires someone who victims have faith will pursue these cases vigorously. And that having someone untrustworthy in the role drives down the likelihood people will report these crimes.
In that light, one might wonder how a progressive prosecutor like Gunnigle would approach work with its members.
Gunnigle said her previous prosecutorial work taught her “how to navigate these relationships, and walk the line between a professional working relationship and not colluding with police and conspiring against people.” She said the relationship between police and prosecutors needs to be respectful, but that the job requires “someone with a backbone” to call out question units about potential misconduct.
Check Gunnigle’s appearance on The ReidOut below: