Tuesday, November 2, 2010

For an Elected Attorney General

In most states, I'd probably say that there are enough knucklehead politicians running around.  But in the District, I believe it is best to elect our attorney general.

There are good reasons in favor of appoinment.  When it comes to the person who is responsible for overseeing criminal prosecutions, defending the state in civil suits, enforcing government regulations, and suing on behalf of the government, its understandable to seek the best-qualified legal mind for the job.  Gubernatorial (or mayoral) appointment, with Senate (or DC Council) confirmation, can provide for a rigorous selection process and may include folks that would be great for the job, but would not run for office. 

On the other hand, elected Attorney Generals, "AGs", are widely considered "Aspiring Governors." They must delicately balance a need to score political points and a photo op with fair and just enforcement of the law.  That's why some states stick with appointment.

But the District is not like other jurisdictions.  States have a full legislature, governor (and sometimes elected lieutenant governor), county and city governments, and elected district attorneys and sherriffs.  Our city of 600,000 people is essentially governed by just 14 elected officials -- the Mayor and the DC Council.  The city could use more checks and balances, accountability, and oversight.

Moreover, in the Fenty Administration, we had, in a respect, the worst of both worlds.  Attorney General Peter Nickles, while an extremely qualified and able attorney, also viewed his role as defending, personally and politically, the Mayor.  Rather than represent "the city" and its residents, he took sides between the Mayor and the D.C. Council, the Mayor and the DC Auditor, and those who questioned the legality of the Administration's actions - whether it was donating fire trucks to the Dominican Republic or circumventing procurement rules to award lucrative park renovation contracts to friends of the mayor.  The result is that we had a highly political AG that we did not elect.

Some have suggested that electing an attorney general brings us closer to Home Rule and statehood.  Maybe, but that's not my reason for voting FOR the ballot initiative.  It's a matter of having more checks and balances and accountability in DC government. 

Putting some fire under the AG could also result in some policy changes.  Is there any doubt that an elected attorney general would not stand by while youths who have committed crimes are quickly released back into the public to commit more violence?  Who will be the next DYRS "ward of the state" to make headlines?

One of my neighbors received a robocall identified identified as on behalf of "black churches" asking that he vote "NO" to the ballot initiative for an elected attorney general.  Those behind the robocalls are likely supporters of Vince Gray who do not want his power diminished by creating an independent attorney general.  Yes, electing an attorney general will reduce the mayor's power, just as eliminating the authority of the elected school board increased the mayor's control. 

In this case, the best choice is for an elected attorney general.


Yes On Amendment Four Committee said...

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nonpolitical? said...

I don't see how this would encourage apolitical behaviour. It would likely separate them from influence by current elected officials, however they would be bound by the same political forces that bound the council and mayor.

Prosecute teen violence too aggressively and you risk peeving off too many parents, relatives, and others connected with those 'good, but misguided children'.

Churches with their base remain untouchable, as do large developers.

I would like to think that an elected AG would result in someone who prosecutes regardless of political consequences, however I don't see that happening. I also don't have faith in the mayor to appoint someone truly independent.

Cary Silverman said...

Nonpolitical, I agree with you. My point is not that the position would be nonpolitical, an appointed position would be better on that consideration, but that there would be more checks and balances, and accountability. Since the position has become highly political even as an appointed one, it would seem this is largely beneficial. Assuming Congress allows the new law to go into effect, we'll see how it works in 2015.