Attorney general should be elected

What others say

Posted: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The departure of Gregg Renkes as Alaska's attorney general again is spurring debate over whether the state's top law enforcement officer should be appointed or elected.

Eagle River Sen. Fred Dyson wants voters, rather than the governor, to decide future attorneys general, as they did in territorial Alaska. But such a move will require a constitutional amendment approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters.

It will not be easy to wrestle the question onto the ballot, but there is no question that electing attorneys general, as is done in 43 other states, has more than a little merit. Alaska's present system puts politics above the state's legal interests.

As it stands now, Alaska's attorney general is the governor's lawyer, unanswerable to the people, and the position is fraught with potential problems and conflicts.

How can an appointed attorney general credibly investigate allegations against a governor? Can a governor, or his executive branch, credibly investigate his own attorney general? Are residents best served when a governor can put politics first in ignoring an attorney general's recommendation, for instance, in whether to pursue a lawsuit in defense of Alaska's interests?

Those opposed to making the attorney general an elective office like to trot out the old saw that such a move would further introduce politics; that it would invite the politically ambitious into the arena. Why, you might ask, is that a terrible thing? We are unsure, believing as we do that the robust debate and the sometimes grindingly slow give and take of the political process allows the best outcome more often than not.

After all, one person's politics is another's additional checks and balances at the top levels of a state government already heavily weighted in favor of the governor and executive branch. Political tension is not necessarily a bad thing.

The idea's detractors believe any problems can be solved with better appointments to the post, but better appointments do not begin to address all the other weaknesses or resolve the potentials for conflict. It will take change.

Framers of Alaska's Constitution crafted a strong executive branch so that things could get done, and quickly; a strong governor that could lead and direct with minimal fuss. It only made sense that the attorney general would answer to him. It was a great idea at the time and for the circumstances.

Today, this state needs an independent attorney general who will look to the state's legal interests, not as the governor sees them, but for his ultimate bosses, the people of the state of Alaska.

— The Voice of the Times (Anchorage)

Feb. 21

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