Proposals to make the state attorney general an elected position have appeared year after year in the Alaska Legislature. This time the measure is sponsored by Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak. It faces a high legislative hurdle, but it has moved through three committees and is pending in Senate Rules. Both sides — pro and con — say they want to keep politics out of the AG’s office.
Stoltze says he wants the AG to be the people’s attorney, not an appointee of the governor.
“Whether it’s to investigate criminal activity, to promote consumer protection, to give us independent judgments on legal matters, so it doesn’t just mirror what the political philosophy of the governor is but with somebody who has a constituency of the people,” he said, at a Finance Committee hearing last week.
Alaska is one of only seven states that don’t elect their attorney general. The head of the Department of Law is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. Changing that would require amending the state constitution, which is what Stoltze is trying to do.
“The attorney general would be able to, I think, have a greater independence and I think it would become a very representative and innovative position, a conduit for the people of Alaska,” he said.
Often, proponents of letting voters select the AG say it makes the position less political.
Former attorney general Bruce Botelho thinks the opposite.
“There is an ongoing joke among attorneys general nationwide that ‘AG’ actually stands for ‘Aspiring Governor.’ And there is more than a grain of truth to that,” he said.
Botelho says elected AGs often treat the job as a political stepping stone, and sometimes see their governor a political rival. Then, he says, a state may have to hire more attorneys as governors and various departments demand their own legal counsel. Also, Botelho says, an elected AG has to campaign, and may favor a particular industry or political base. Botelho served as AG for governors of both parties. He says the Alaska post tends to attract non-political types whose loyalty is to the law.
“My own experience, both in that role but also having worked for several attorneys general, has been that they have always retained their independent legal judgments. They provide the best advice they can,” he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have to pass both the House and Senate by a two-thirds vote to win a spot on the ballot.