John Kroger: fortuitous bike trip end
By Tony Ahern
It's almost as if John Kroger emerged from central casting to run for Oregon's attorney general.
In very Oregon style, he fell in love with the state while on a three-month bike tour of the country back in 2000, after taking a leave of absence from an intense, time-consuming job back in New York. He was, after all, a philosophy major at Yale, and knew the importance of introspection and being true to his heart and soul.
What's more, though he's never held public office, he knows about politics. He worked for the Bill Clinton campaign back in 1991 and with the Clinton transition team as a policy adviser for the Treasury Department. But in the mid-1990s, he was back in the Ivy League, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.
After that bike trip, Kroger eventually moved to Portland in 2002 to teach at Lewis and Clark College Law School.
OK. Sounds good. But we aren't looking for state philosopher, but our lead law enforcement officer: our attorney general.
Here's some more about John Kroger. Raised in Texas, he joined the Marines at age 17, and was a member of a special ops unit. At 20, he traded the barracks for the halls of Yale University and those philosophy studies. With his Yale degree, he delved into government by working for Rep. Chuck Schumer of New York and Speaker of the House Tom Foley, before joining the Clinton campaign.
All right. Kroger knows politics. But we aren't looking for a campaign manager. We're electing an attorney general.
Let's see. A year after getting his law degree, Kroger went to work as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office out of Brooklyn, and found himself face to face with the mob. He didn't blink. He was credited with a string of convictions, and finishing cases that had been brewing for years. Racketeers, murderers and drug kingpings fell before this young prosecutor, barely 30, with his Jimmy-Stewart-type courtroom manner.
It was from this intense job situation that Kroger sought a three-month break in order to bike from New York to Oregon, a chance, he said, to reflect on the morals and ethics behind prosecution work. That darned philosophy background getting in the way again.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001. Kroger soon found himself in a command center in Manhattan, providing search warrants and subpoenas to investigate potential terrorist cells.
In 2002, he took that teaching job at Lewis and Clark Law School. But his prosecution days didn't end. He joined the government's Enron task force and eventually won indictments against seven Enron employees for corruption in what was among the most high profile corporate scandals in American history.
But when Kroger stopped by the Pioneer office Monday, he wasn't interested in talking about the past much. He hopes to be Oregon attorney general, and in that post tackle Oregon's crime, and its No. 1 problem: meth addiction. He has a two-pronged attack plan for that problem: reducing demand and targeting supply.
Oregon, says Kroger, ranks 45th in the nation for access to drug treatment, and 49th in treatment for young adults. "If we want to end the meth crisis, we must do better," notes Kroger.
Kroger praises the 2005 law that put pseudoephedrine cold medicines behind the counters. It drastically reduced small-scale meth labs in the state. However, it did nothing to reduce the demand for the drug. Hence, drug cartels from Mexico have stepped in to fill that vacuum.
"I will revitalize the office's organized crime section and get that unit focused on tackling the drug cartels," said Kroger. He'd also provide state assistance to local levels to enforce and prosecute such drug cases.
While he backs mandatory sentences for violent crimes like rape and murder, he says he "strongly opposes" mandatory minimums for drug possession and first-time property offenses. His experience, says Kroger, has taught him that such sentencing makes for "poor law enforcement policy" and would cost us hundreds of millions without making us safer.
No Republican filed for the position -- I guess Kevin Mannix, the father of outlandish mandatory sentence policy, is the GOP's defacto top cop -- so if Kroger wins the primary against three-term state legislator and Portland attorney Greg Macpherson, he'll basically be unchallenged in the fall. Macpherson, with substantially more political and legislative experience, doesn't plan on handing the job to Kroger.
But let's recap: A Marine special ops guy at age 17, a Yale University student at age 20, some political/government experience, Harvard law degree, put away Mafia murderers and drug kingpins in his early 30s, worked to indict Enron executives, awarded best teacher at Lewis and Clark Law School in 2004.
It's no stretch to say John Kroger is prepared to be Oregon's next attorney general. And the guy's only 41. With his track record of success, he has the potential to become one of Oregon's pre-eminent leaders over the next quarter century.
Seems a good thing his bike tour in 2000 ended in Oregon and not, say, Washington or California.