A lawyer leaving Sunday's Pacific University forum featuring the two Democrats vying for state attorney general was asked what he thought: 'I'm really glad I came,' he said. 'Because it's now clear to me regardless of who wins this, we'll be in good shape.'
Ellen Rosenblum and Dwight Holton have spent the past four months trying to get an edge in a low-key, high-stakes contest for the state's top lawyer. Since no Republicans filed for the GOP primary, the winner of the May 15 Democratic primary election is likely to get the job, possibly as soon as this summer.
(The Republican Party is making a belated effort to qualify attorney James Buchal for the November ballot by running a write-in campaign in the primary.)
As for Rosenblum and Holton, both are seasoned lawyers whose confident-yet-calm temperaments seem well-suited for the job. Both are progressive Democrats who would champion civil rights, strengthen consumer protections and go after parents who don't pony up child support.
Holton, a former U.S. attorney for Oregon, gets our nod because of his proven record at running a large legal office with similar functions. Holton came to the U.S. attorney's office in 2004 and got the top job in 2010. He held it for 18 months, until last fall, when President Obama's pick for the post, Amanda Marshall, took over.
While in that office, he won praise for his administrative skills and his leadership into probing the conduct of Portland police officers.
Taking over an attorney general's office with 1,200 employees and seven divisions would be a stretch for him, but not an unreasonable one.
Our concern with Holton is his close alliance with the incumbent, John Kroger, whose meteoric political ascent crashed and burned. Kroger is stepping down this summer for undisclosed health reasons (which apparently won't prevent him for taking a tough job as Reed College president) but not before a series of damaging political and professional blunders.
Holton's reluctance to distance himself from Kroger is understandable, however, as the two men remain friends. In public forums and discussions with our editorial board, he made it clear that he thought Kroger erred in many ways, from his disbanding of an elder abuse task force to his mishandling of an effort to close loopholes in the state's public records law.
While some criticize the 46-year-old Holton for being ambitious, we admire the trait. It wasn't Kroger's ambitions that got him in trouble - it was his lack of administrative skill and political acumen. Neither should be a problem for Holton.
If Holton weren't such a strong candidate, we'd have no trouble backing his opponent. The 61-year-old Rosenblum would be the first woman to serve as the state's attorney general, but that's certainly not her primary qualification. Since moving to Oregon in 1975, she's amassed an impressive resume, first in private practice, then as an assistant U.S. attorney and as a judge for 23 years, the last six on the state Court of Appeals.
She's served on numerous professional panels at the state and national level and would bring a breadth of experience to the post.
Rosenblum can talk credibly about her ability to develop the skills needed to run a large public agency, but Holton has already demonstrated that he's up to the task.
That's why in a race with two good candidates, we encourage voters to support Dwight Holton for Oregon attorney general.