Management chops, fairness key to attorney general job

In the GOP primary, both candidates say they're in step with the mainstream.

krodine@idahostatesman.comMay 10, 2014 

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IDAHO STATESMAN

One thing's certain in the Republican primary race for Idaho attorney general: There's plenty of contrast between the candidates.

Talk to incumbent Lawrence Wasden and challenger Chris Troupis, and the same facts take on different colors.

In Wasden's camp, his three-term tenure - longer than that of any other Idaho AG - represents valuable experience and understanding of the job and the people.

To Troupis, an Eagle attorney, it represents an absorption into the office and its power at the expense of advocacy for Idaho's residents.

Wasden has called it a contest between the rational and radical streams of Idaho's Republican Party. But GOP loyalty is one of the few things the two publicly agree on: The race's loser on May 20 will back the victor over Democrat Bruce Bistline in November.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Two former Idaho attorneys general shared their views with the Statesman about key qualifications for the job.

"What you really need is probably a strategic thinker who has significant legal experience, the ability to hire superb professional people and who is in touch with both legal trends and political issues," said David Leroy, a Republican who served one term before being elected lieutenant governor in 1986.

Now in private practice in Boise, Leroy said that what surprised him about the statewide post was "how disparate the interests of the far-flung areas of Idaho can be and how much balancing the attorney general must do to be the people's lawyer, north and south, east and west."

For Tony Park, a Democrat who was elected in 1970 and served one term, "the keystone is professionalism. Your clients are the people in state government. ... It's important that they get unvarnished, objective, sound professional advice," he said.

"It's the only one of the constitutional officers that requires a professional, a true professional," said Park, who now focuses on arbitration and mediation at the Boise law firm Thomas, Williams and Park. "Attorney general requires someone who is a good administrator. It's the largest law office in the state of Idaho."

Objectivity is another obvious key, he said: "In an attorney general's office, ideological devotion is not required and indeed can be counterproductive."

PASSION AND POWER

Troupis, an attorney who says his widely varied caseload gives him insight into all divisions of the AG office, says Wasden has been "captured by the immense power of office" and represents the government, not its people.

Wasden says his job is to follow the Constitution and not indulge his personal views and passions.

"It's important to distinguish between rhetoric and reality," Wasden said in an Idaho Public Television debate. "You need to have an attorney general who will tell you what you need to know, rather than what you want to hear. The one who will tell you the whole story, not just the part that can be manipulated to one's political advantage."

The AG advises policymakers and then defends those policies whether he agrees or not, the incumbent said.

"I swore an oath to uphold the constitution we have, not the one I wish," Wasden said at a recent candidate forum at the College of Western Idaho.

Troupis said he, too, has "tremendous respect for the law and the constitution and its defense," but the attorney general should prioritize Idaho individuals and businesses, including defending them from federal regulation.

The first line in Troupis' response to the Idaho Statesman voter guide is, "I am not a career politician." His campaign literature calls him principled, fearless and "an advocate for Idaho."

At the top of Wasden's campaign website are two words: "Experience counts." A former Owyhee County prosecutor and deputy Canyon County prosecutor, he served as a deputy AG and chief of staff for his predecessor, Al Lance, before he was elected in 2002.

THE PARTY'S SOUL

Wasden has repeatedly called the race "a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party" pitting the "rational" mainstream against the "far right."

Troupis, who successfully argued the party's case to close its primary in 2010, says he is the one in step with Idaho's Republicans.

"I think the tea party has adopted me because I have the same values that they do, but I don't view myself as a tea party candidate," he said during the IPTV debate.

Troupis, the Idaho state director for the anti-abortion group Americans United For Life, announced his bid in March, saying he plans to tap the same anti-incumbent passion that's behind Sen. Russ Fulcher's primary challenge to Gov. Butch Otter over Otter's state-run health exchange. Troupis advocates repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

In an Idaho Statesman editorial board meeting, Troupis stressed that he has liberal clients and causes as well as conservative ones. He represented Ralph Nader in a successful challenge to Idaho's ballot restrictions for independent candidates, for instance.

LAND ISSUES

Perhaps the issue that gets the candidates most animated is whether the state should press to take over the vast tracts of federal land in Idaho.

Troupis says yes, arguing that control could greatly boost Idaho's economy. He advocates collaborating with other timber-rich states - he's already working with Wisconsin - and potentially taking the feds to court.

Wasden agrees with Troupis that Idaho would do a better job of managing the land, but he stresses that it would likely be a losing battle in court because Idaho's constitution expressly disclaims the unincorporated (i.e., federal) land within its boundaries, and in the 1940s the state expressly rejected the idea of taking over federal land.

Also, he told the editorial board, a lawsuit would be incredibly expensive.

"Can you really imagine the federal government not mounting a massive defense?" he said. "It's better to work the political process in Congress."

Troupis responded: "I don't think we can work through Congress. Congress is gridlocked."

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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