THE ON-AGAIN, off-again election for D.C. attorney general could be on again. A lawsuit challenging the D.C. Council’s decision to postpone the election until 2018 has been refiled. Legislation also has been introduced that would put the election back on track for next year.
Amid all the uncertainty, the only thing clear is the complete hash the council has made of the future of this critical office. Just as it didn’t consider the consequences of switching from an appointed attorney general to an elected one, it didn’t think about the ramifications of delaying the election. Instead of rushing approval of another band-aid fix that could make things worse, we would urge the council to conduct a more careful study of the issues and try to get it right this time.
Legislation sponsored by D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) would provide for election of the attorney general in the November 2014 general election. The proposal would forgo primaries in April and allow candidates to get on the ballot by self-identifying party affiliation; it also aims to lift the bar that prevents D.C. government lawyers from running for the office.
There are good arguments for moving to a nonpartisan election of the attorney general and opening up the field to the city’s career government lawyers. But the proposal — jerry-rigged to blunt criticism (well-deserved) of how the council took advantage of sloppy wording in legislation approved by the 2010 referendum to delay the election — is problematic. The charter change engineered by the council and approved by voters insisted on election on a partisan basis. In the District, that traditionally has meant political parties selecting their candidates. Also, what happens if lawyer Paul Zukerberg, the only candidate so far to declare for the office, succeeds in his efforts to force a primary election in April?
Given the short time frame and the confusion that surrounds this issue, we hope the court won’t force a premature election; the office is too important. By the same token, we don’t think voters should have to wait until 2018 to see a change they overwhelmingly approved. Should the attorney general’s term coincide with that of the mayor? Does it make sense to hold an election in 2015 or in 2016 when a presidential election would mean heightened voter participation? What’s the best way to encourage a field of qualified candidates? The failure of the council to address these questions points up the need for a more thorough discussion to set sensible rules for an orderly and timely election.
Read more about this topic: