The attorney general of Washington state is independently elected by the people to represent the state in legal matters. That office, like the governor's office, is supposed to operate independently and not bow to the political whims of the Legislature or other elected officials.
Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, has been operating his office in this manner -- and he's irked some Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire in the process.
Specifically, Democrats are not happy McKenna used the authority of his office to join Washington state with several other states in a constitutional challenge to the national health-care law that's often called "ObamaCare." Democrats sued McKenna on the grounds that he overstepped his authority. But the state high court sided with McKenna.
So now some Democrats in the state Senate are trying to make new law that would essentially force the attorney general to cede to their authority.
Under legislation proposed by Sen. Adam Kline of Seattle, the attorney general would be required to seek consultation on matters not specifically covered by state statutes.
McKenna's office, as one would expect, contends the proposal restricts the constitutional role of the attorney general.
"It's the job of the Attorney General to balance the interests of individual state officials with the legal interests of the state and of the people as a whole," McKenna spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie wrote in an email. "Sometimes that requires our office to take positions that are unpopular with other elected officials or individual state agencies. But to allow other officials to control the state's legal interests, and those of other state agencies, would turn the Attorney General into a mere mouthpiece for those officials' narrow interests."
When Gregoire was attorney general, as she was for a dozen years, she did not run to the governor or the Legislature to seek permission before taking action. Nor should she have.
The only thing that's changed is the current attorney general belongs to a different political party than the governor and the leaders of the Legislature. This proposal is driven by politics.
We believe the attorney general, as the chief law officer, has the power to act on behalf of the state whether or not the governor or the Legislature agree. Ultimately, the attorney general answers only to the voters.