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The hazards of AG

Attorney general would seem to be a good state office from which to move up to higher office – a good title, a record of defending and advocating for the public, limited need to wade into major controversy. And a number of former attorneys general in the Northwest have moved on to governor or senator (Washington’s current governor, for one).

But there are hazards, showing up in recent reports on Oregon and Washington.

In Oregon, Democrat John Kroger, who won the office in part on the strength of a reputation as an aggressive New York federal prosecutor, has begun taking regular hits for being too hard-charging in Oregon. Today’s lead Oregonian story was about the resignation of Sean Riddell, the chief criminal division lawyer for Kroger, whose approach has been described as severely bullying and intimidating. Cases he was involved in, including a purchasing issue at the Department of Energy and problems with the Umatilla County district attorney, grew out of real or at least questionable issues, but ballooned into vastly oversized prosecutorial monoliths. These were high profile efforts, cases Kroger too must have been watching closely.

Protecting the public interest, yes; but at what price? It’s fair to say the question is circulating around Oregon, and is likely to when Kroger is up for election next year.

More mundane issues can come back to bite, too. Washington’s Republican AG, Rob McKenna, who has just announced for governor, has a smoother and generally moderate reputation, but a number of discrete issues have surfaced over the months, and more will.

A post on the Stranger Slog yesterday notes this: “According to data obtained from the AGO, the number of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions in the office grew from 1,274.9 in 2005, at the time McKenna took over, to 1,316.8 in fiscal year 2010. That’s an increase of 3.3 percent. But during that same period, total state General Fund FTEs actually shrank from 41,970 in 2005 to 40,389 in 2010, a reduction of 3.8 percent. And at the same time he was growing his staff while state government as a whole was contracting, McKenna paid more in bonuses to his employees than any other state agency, almost $600,000 in 2009 alone.”

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