Meet Our Candidates: Felecia Rotellini for Arizona Attorney General

The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014, and early voting is already underway! Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” Make your voice heard in 2014!

felecia-rotellini scaled[F]elecia Rotellini is running for Arizona attorney general. The role of Arizona’s attorney general is to serve as chief legal officer on behalf of the state of Arizona. She boasts nearly 30 years of prosecutorial experience, including in her current role as a prosecutor for a private law firm in Phoenix and her previous position as superintendent of the State Banking Department in Arizona under Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Ms. Rotellini’s opponent is Mark Brnovich, who publicly spoke out in favor of businesses instead of people during the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, which eventually allowed businesses to exclude contraception from the health insurance plans they provide their employees on the grounds of religious beliefs. Putting faith before the law, Brnovich has made clear his intention to legally protect every demographic but women when he states, “Whether that be protecting the rights of the unborn, children, seniors, or our veterans, we have a solemn obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves. My faith and my experience as a prosecutor teaches me that.” Brnovich goes further in implying that he feels no obligation to protect and defend laws that concern women when he specifies: “We also have an obligation to protect and defend our laws that concern the unborn.”

Ms. Rotellini takes a broader approach to inclusiveness as she seeks to uphold the law to protect all Arizonans, including members of the LGBTQ community. As Arizona’s attorney general, she pledges to “support equal protection under the law for one and all, with no exceptions.”

Ms. Rotellini was kind enough to speak with us on October 28, 2014.

“I’m disappointed that my opponent supports a new version of SB 1062 to legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals.”

Tell us a little about your background.

I have lived in Arizona for 28 years; I’ve been a practicing attorney for 28 years. Eleven of those have been in the private sector as a litigation attorney, and 17 of those years as a public lawyer. I worked as a prosecutor in the attorney general’s office for 13 years in both the civil and criminal divisions from 1992 to 2005. And then I ran the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions as superintendent in the cabinet of Gov. Napolitano and also Gov. Brewer. I was in that job from 2006 to 2009. Over 17 years, I was in uninterrupted public service. I had the opportunity to work primarily in financial fraud, consumer fraud, and senior fraud.

I have had some very big cases. Because of my background as a trial lawyer, I did jury trials in my civil practice from 1986 to 1992. I was the lead lawyer for the state against Arthur Andersen, the accounting giant, for the failed audits of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, where there were 11,000 investors who lost their retirements, and we were able to return $217 million to the victims, mostly working-class and senior citizens.

When I was at the Department of Financial Institutions, it was at the height of the mortgage crisis. I created a mortgage fraud task force, and I was instrumental in the indictment of 36 people under the Department of Justice’s Operation Cash Back. We worked very hard across party lines with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to clean up the mortgage industry and to pass laws creating mortgage fraud as a crime and getting mortgage loan officers licensed.

My background and experiences are in the most relevant and germane areas to the attorney general’s office, which has a very robust prosecution of financial fraud and consumer fraud, and that’s one of my priorities.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed HB 2284, which permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. Can a legal argument against this law be made to emphasize our patients’ heightened need for privacy and safety?

Some HB 2284 proponents defended the law on the ground that the state can perform warrantless searches of fast food restaurants, but there is a clear difference between medical patients and fast food workers. I believe that an argument that recognizes a patient’s heightened need for privacy and safety would likely be effective.

Part of your platform involves the creation of a domestic violence ombudsman as part of a state-level effort to respond to and reduce intimate partner violence in Arizona. Do you see a connection between domestic abuse and a lack of access to reproductive health services?

Yes, there is a connection. When domestic violence and abuse victims do not have access to services they need to get help, it is often not the only thing to which they’re lacking access. By creating a domestic violence ombudsman, we can push a coordinated, statewide effort to secure access to domestic violence resources and help victims break free from a destructive cycle.

You spoke out against SB 1062, the infamous bill that would have given business owners the right to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals based on religious beliefs. More recently, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision held that a corporation’s religious beliefs trump scientific consensus about certain types of contraception. Especially in terms of issues like LGBTQ rights and reproductive health, what does protecting “religious freedom” mean to you?

I spoke out against SB 1062 to warn that, in my view, the so-called “right to discriminate” legislation was patently unconstitutional. And I’m disappointed that my opponent supports a new version of SB 1062 to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.

As attorney general, I’ll safeguard the First Amendment and every Arizonan’s right to freely exercise their faith. But I do not believe that a religious freedom claim can necessarily override due process and equal protection rights that are subject to strict scrutiny under the federal Constitution.

Your opponent, Mark Brnovich, has been very open about his opposition to marriage equality in Arizona. In contrast, you celebrated Friday’s court ruling as a move forward for Arizona. How would you continue to move Arizona into the future, in contrast to your opponent?

It’s simple: I’ll respect the 9th Circuit ruling while my opponent says he will work to find ways to legalize discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals.

Brnovich has indicated on his Center for Arizona Policy questionnaire that he would support legislation prohibiting abortion, with few exceptions. While CAP’s allies in the Legislature were able to get many anti-abortion bills signed into law after Gov. Jan Brewer took office, the state has had to defend many of them in court, such as the law enforcing an outdated protocol for administering the abortion pill. What do you think about the resources that Arizona has spent defending these laws?

Although it is unfortunate that Arizona taxpayers have had to foot the bill to defend laws that violate the federal constitution, the attorney general is statutorily obligated to defend laws passed by the Legislature. That’s a duty I will uphold. If voters are tired of the Legislature passing questionable laws that cost too much to defend, they’ll need to elect new legislators.

Brnovich has also supported lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, while medical bodies such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that birth control is a necessary component of preventive health care. As attorney general, how would you ensure that our laws remain in the best interest of our citizens’ health?

As the people’s lawyer, I will advise policymakers along the way. That includes information about prevailing legal standards they need to consider when implementing existing laws and proposing new legislation and making sure their actions are consistent with evidence-based theories concerning health.

Why do you think it’s important that people make their own health care decisions?

It is fundamental in a free society that individuals are able to make their own decisions about their own health care. The Constitution’s right to privacy demands that each of us remain free from governmental intrusion in the most personal aspect of our lives.

Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?

I have long been a personal supporter of women’s right to make their own health care decisions, and to have full access to health care. Planned Parenthood is one of the most effective pro-women organizations in this country, and I’m very proud to have such strong leaders on my team.

To learn more about Felecia Rotellini’s campaign, you can visit her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. You can also contact us if you’d like to volunteer for any of our endorsed candidates!