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Monday, April 30, 2012

And the Mercury Endorses: Ellen Rosenblum for Attorney General

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 10:59 AM

It's endorsement week at the Mercury. That means, for the next few days, we'll be releasing endorsements in one or more selected races here on Blogtown. Think of it like a slow buildup to the unveiling of our pick in this year's mayoral race, which won't be revealed until the paper hits newsstands later this week.

Today, we announce our choice in the closely contested state Attorney General's race. Which race will it be tomorrow? Come back to find out.

Ellen Rosenblum
  • Ellen Rosenblum
John Kroger, recently revealed as the next president of Reed College, handpicked his preferred successor at the Oregon Department of Justice a long time ago: Dwight Holton, the political scion and federal prosecutor who, for almost two years, stepped up to lead Oregon’s US attorney’s office.

In placing his imprimatur on Holton, Kroger could have done a lot worse. Holton is collaborative, can claim solid management experience, and has a clear judicial track record of taking on polluters and other reprehensible types. Nor is he a reactionary, having come up in the Clinton White House before taking work as a federal prosecutor first in New York and then, since 2004, in Oregon.

But as agreeable as we found Holton, we were just slightly more impressed by his only rival in the race, Ellen Rosenblum—a former appeals court judge and former state court judge who also, many years ago, spent some time as a federal prosecutor. She’s also smart and likeable and unquestionably progressive.

In truth, both Rosenblum and Holton would make a worthy attorney general—and whatever daylight there is between them is minimal and ought to be measured in something more akin to microns than inches. Neither will tolerate fraud, etc. And they both thunder about protecting seniors and consumers and homeowners, etc. Whoever wins the primary, because no Republicans have filed, will undoubtedly assume the office next year.

Two things tipped our choice—and neither had anything to do with Rosenblum having worked and lived in Oregon way longer than Holton. The first is Rosenblum’s more nuanced approach to medicinal marijuana. Rosenblum has said she’d prioritize other crimes over marijuana and has found herself (even if it’s all just been a grab for national marijuana lobby cash) in a position to foster enough trust in patients and providers to make meaningful changes in the legal gray area where shady dispensaries have begun to thrive.

Holton, backed by district attorneys and law enforcement officials from all across the state, will have a harder time doing that. He carries a lot of baggage stemming from his federal job, which made him play the role of the heavy, and he did himself no favors by inflaming the medicinal pot advocates by calling Oregon’s pot laws a “trainwreck.” In our interview, he insisted he supports the state’s pot law—but we worry all the same about how he’ll enforce and interpret it.

The second point for Rosenblum was her unbidden nod toward completing Kroger’s work on reforming public records law in Oregon. Kroger couldn’t manage to browbeat legislators into loosening the state’s shamefully expensive, opaque, and loophole-filled statutes; maybe she can. Of course, it came after both candidates disappointed us with weak stances on releasing public employee pension information—stances that seemed more designed to please backers in big labor than actual citizens.

Holton very nearly overcame all that by offering what’s likely the more robust platform on police accountability. He notes accurately that he helped push for the ongoing federal probe of the Portland Police Bureau’s use of force, he speaks clearly about the breakdown in trust between the cops and some community members, and he even has an endorsement from one prominent member of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, Dr. T. Allen Bethel.

But his plan to look at whether his office could emerge as a state hub for deadly-police-force investigations, among other things, is more exploratory than solid. We question whether he could effectively stand up to skeptics among his law enforcement backers to make it happen.

We’re also just slightly dismayed by Holton’s relationship the with white-collar law firm that hired him after he left the US attorney’s office. Lane Powell represents and takes money from the kind of companies—Wells Fargo among them—that an attorney general ought to be rankling instead. Holton plays down the relationship, but also acknowledged using office space at Lane Powell to do campaign work.

That’s a gift, but it hasn’t shown up yet in his state campaign finance records. Instead, his campaign says, Lane Powell will wait until after the campaign to submit invoices. Which is, conveniently, after voters who’d otherwise take umbrage at such an arrangement would’ve already cast their ballots.

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