Friday Question of the Day (Serious Edition) – Should DC Attorney General be an Elected Position?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Faucetini

“Dear PoP,

Proposed Charter Amendment IV – The Elected Attorney General Charter Amendment. It’s on the ballot…one should one vote? Can’t seem to find a lot of pro/con analysis. I turn to you PoP.”

And I, of course, turn to PoPville. I’m actually glad this question was asked because I think it’s really important but I haven’t really given it much consideration. So what do you guys say? I know a Post editorial advised against it but I haven’t been following the issue to closely. For those who support electing an attorney general – what are the arguments in favor?

How serious of an issue do you think this is? I’m guessing a lot of minds have not yet been made up on this issue so I look forward to hearing both pro and con arguments.

34 Comment

  • Cons: 1)The unwashed masses could elect an attorney General that either is too easy on crime or too much of a hard ass; 2) the position could become hopelessly political – a stepping stone for the mayor’s office that attracts every political hack in town…3) the current appointment process allows a responsible Mayor to appoint a great non-politico, who otherwise could never get elected…

    Pros: 1) This could be yet another small step towards Statehood; 2) could be a nice counter balance to an out of control Mayor and/or city Council; 3) more direct accountability to the voting public.

    How will I vote… no idea yet!

  • I’m against it. In addition to the reasons set out in the Post editorial, Attorney General Peter Nickles had a good op-ed on the 25th. The elected attorneys general of many of the states are running amok on their own self-interested political platforms. See Cuccineli (VA), Abbott (TX).

    • Well, I’d like it if someone other than the current appointed atty general had written that op-ed. Of COURSE he believes that appointed AG’s are the way to go and can make a compelling case.

    • True in NY too isn’t it? Not just conservative agendas.

  • Cuccinelli is the best proof that popularly elected attorney generals are a terrible idea. Even McDonnell wouldnt have appointed someone that wacky and uninterested in actually doing their job.

    • Yeah, but Nickels is the best proof that appointed a.g.’s are a terrible idea.

      Swings both ways. Personally I think more democracy is always better than less, even if the public is getting dumber by the day. Might get some crazies elected, but a less chance for corruption.

      • Clearly you haven’t been involved in county surveyor or coroner elections in rural midwestern counties. You ain’t seen corruption till you seen coroner corruption.

        Sadly, I’m not really joking. There is such a thing as too much democracy. Nonetheless, I’m leaning toward supporting an elected AG – in this particular case, the conflict of interest inherent in an appointed AG is the deciding factor for me.

        • ah

          Does Eric Holder have conflict of interest with the President?

          Elected AGs are one attribute of statehood to which we should not aspire. They should be advancing the government’s interests, not their own political interests.

    • Absolutely agree with Seriously and completely disagree with NON 6:53am.

      What a Clown Pretty Boy Cuccinelli is! Virginia should be embarrased. He is nothing more than a career politician who wants to be governor.

      The Elected Mayor should choose his/her AG and “perhaps” the council could/should review the choice.

      Sometimes the people are easily fooled. I for one do not know enough about lawyers and their experience to make that kind of decision with confidence.

      Add D to the name and they get the vote in this town?

      That is not the best reason to win an election.

      • As a vehement partisan Democrat, I wholeheartedly agree. Just because they’re a Dem candidate for AG doesnt mean they should win. Also, I have no idea who would be a good AG and I would be seduced by teh political arguments.

  • Judges and attorneys shouldn’t be elected, period. You get jurists making decisions based on politics, not the law. Bad, bad, bad.

    • So instead of having an Attorney General make political decisions based on what voters want, you would rather have an Attorney General who makes political decisions based on what the mayor wants?

      I totally agree that, in an ideal world, the attorney general’s position would be apolitical. Nickles is Exhibit A of the fact that we do not live in an ideal world. If DC were a conservative jurisdiction, Nickles would be holding up Cuccinelli and Abbott as examples of great elected attorney generals and proof that the people should be the ones who decide.

      Its all politics. As a voter, I would rather have the option to hire and fire my AG than to give that power to the mayor.

    • But now they make decisions based on what the Mayor tells them to do. How is that better?

      • ah

        I think you’re misunderstanding the role of an attorney general, which is to defend/advance the laws of the state, which are passed by a legislature and executed by a governor or mayor. Why should the AG not be beholden to the mayor and council?

        The problem in DC with Nickels does not necessarily extend to all AGs. The problem was Nickels and a City Council who confirmed the appointment.

  • Is there any other advanced democracy in the world that ELECTS its jurists, either judges or prosecutors? I don’t know of any. Instead, most democracies worthy of the name take pains to isolate their judicial processes from political pressures.

    With its demagoguing, pandering prosecutors and local judges, America is running an utterly failed experiment in populism.

  • Agreed, if you want this position to be effective in any way, keep it n appointed position. If you disagreed with the policies that result from whomever is AG, then consider that as you vote for your elected officials.

  • gotryit

    How about one of each? both have their downsides – is there some way for them to keep eachother in line?

  • Absolutely not.

  • Yeah, why not. It’s a pretty high office. Isn’t the AG elected in most states? It could add a bit of legitimacy to making the case for statehood and a vote in Congress.

  • Terrible idea. Most people don’t really keep up with politics enough to make an informed choice for mayor; there’s no way they’d know enough about the issues to knowledgably select an attorney general.

  • I’d be more persuaded if the AG elections were to be in off-mayoral election years (i.e. 2012, not 2014). Then the AG isn’t standing w/ the mayoral candidate (Vote Me for Mayor and Her for AG). Not perfect, but better.

    No firm opinion here – DC politics is such a run of fiefdoms, I’m not sure another fiefdom is the answer.

  • This city hasn’t seen a better AG than Peter Nickles. But since Gray will be appointing the next AG, I may actually vote for this stupid initiative right after I write in Rhee for mayor.

  • Attorney General Marion Barry. Enough said.

  • Having an attorney general who runs on law and order issues in a way that is in sync with D.C. residents is an invitation to Congressional meddling in D.C. law enforcement.

    Imagine an AG campaign about alternative drug courts. In D.C. it would be a fight between favoring alternative drug courts and favoring them even more.

    That creates a very public opportunity for some freshman R from law-and-orderville stuck on the lame D.C. committee to show his constituents he’s tough on crime/drugs by killing alternative drug courts in D.C.

    So long as D.C. is Constitutionally under the control of Congress, things populists in Congress can swat down should be kept out of their reach. Having technocrats run them keeps them out of the limelight Members of Congress crave.

  • I think Peter Nickles sucks. But I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to change how the AG is hired. The AG should be a less political position (ideally non-political, but that won’t happen either way) and needing to be reelected would lead to a TON of grandstanding and pandering, and probably to misplaced priorities.

  • I’m in support. To address some cons raised: it’s not practical to always reflect your approval/disapproval of an appointed AG in your mayoral vote – for example, one would have to vote against Fenty solely because of disapproval of Nickels (and despite of their support for Rhee). Also, while there are threats of it becoming a political stepping stone, thankfully there are provisions requiring the elected AG to have at least 5 years of DC bar membership, so not just anyone would qualify (thus no AG Marion Barry or AG Phil Mendelson).
    As the pro’s have pointed out, the average term of appointed AGs has been only 18 months, so this should give some more stability to the position. As for Congressional meddling, while I can see that that may happen, it seems like a better argument for advancing efforts to remove their oversight rather than an argument against giving residents more say over our legal policies.
    And the fact that the Post editorial board is against it leads me to think that it must be a good idea.

    • ah

      I would like to be able to elect the head of DPW. I might like Gray, but lord knows what incompetent he might appoint to be in charging of plowing the streets.

  • I agree with the earlier statement that DC’s electorate can’t be bothered to know anything about their candidates. Most people come and go <5 years and that's not long enough to pay attention to someone's track record vs. their campaign BS. Many of the old timers vote for who they're told to and the short timers vote ideologically or worse, they vote who the Post recommends. The Post has shown that, while it can derail a campaign, that it can't actually fix anything in the city.

    The major problem I see with an elected AG isn't the fact that they are likely to be partisan, it's that they're going to spend 1/3 or more of their term running for reelection and raising money, not doing actual useful work for the city. You never get a non-partisan official at the highest levels of government and it's laughable to expect otherwise, but you can keep their distractions to a minimum by removing the electioneering time sink.

  • Vote Yes on Amendment IV

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