THE DISTRICT’S attorney general has looked askance at some of the promises made by the candidates vying for his office in next month’s general election, the first time the office will be subject to popular vote rather than mayoral appointment. “They’re talking about how they’re for education and affordable housing and so on,” said Irvin B. Nathan, “We’re all for that, but what does that have to do with the job of the attorney general?”
Mr. Nathan is right about the limited authority the attorney general has over such matters, but his view doesn’t account for the new muscle the office will have as an independent power center, whose occupant will be able to use the bully pulpit and other assets to influence policy. That the office will take on new contours makes it all the more critical that D.C. voters choose wisely on Nov. 4. Whoever becomes the city’s first elected attorney general will set the tone for those who follow. That’s a major reason we urge voters to elect Karl Racine.
Mr. Racine, as we detailed when we endorsed him, has the legal and management skills that will be needed to run the 556-employee office. He is an experienced trial lawyer who has worked in both private and public sectors; a longtime resident of the city, he has a rich understanding of its people and the issues. Mr. Racine is leading in the polls, and so opponents have tried to make an issue of billing disputes involving the firm where he was a managing partner. However, such disputes are not uncommon and don’t have much relevance to his qualifications.
More to the point is Mr. Racine’s common sense about both the potential and the limits of the office. To counter corruption in government, for example, he would establish a section to investigate possible fraud. To shore up the office’s role in consumer protection, he says he will seek legislation from the council strengthening its ability to go after predatory lenders. To clean up the environment, he proposes forming a regional council with the attorneys general from neighboring jurisdictions to target the area’s big polluters. He has identified the shackling of juvenile offenders as a violation of their due process, and we think he would work collaboratively to bring about a change in policy.
We opposed changing the office because, by and large, the appointed attorney general has worked well in protecting the city’s interests and because we feared an elected attorney general could use the office to advance an unrelated political agenda. Mr. Racine offers a measured approach to take advantage of the office’s new influence while staying true to its core mission.