AG Must Have Experience

Sep 25, 2019 at 11:11 am
Daniel Cameron

A lawsuit challenging the eligibility of Republican candidate for attorney general Daniel Cameron asserts that he fails to meet the constitutional requirement that the attorney general of Kentucky “shall have been a practicing lawyer eight years before his election.”

The lawsuit may not amount to much, but the issue brings deserved attention to Cameron’s experience and raises important questions about his candidacy.

First, even if he meets the eight-year threshold, the larger question should be: Does he have enough experience?

Shouldn’t voters expect that the top law enforcement officer of Kentucky — the lawyer who prosecutes cases on behalf of the entire state — comes into the office with a clear record of having prosecuted cases, both in and out of the courtroom?

And, if we elect someone who is under-qualified for the position, doesn’t that essentially render the position of attorney general as a purely political position? That is exactly what the state constitution tries to protect against by imposing requirements for the job.

Cameron, 33, passed the bar in October 2011, which would mean he will be licensed to practice for just over eight years by Election Day. The plaintiff in the lawsuit contends that Cameron has not been a “practicing lawyer” for those eight years — in particular that he did not practice law for two years while clerking for a U.S. district judge.

On top of that, critics of Cameron note that even his two stints practicing law at private law firms had more to do with lobbying than prosecuting cases.

His opponent, Greg Stumbo, a former attorney general and House speaker, claims there is no evidence that Cameron has spent any time working in a courtroom. “We can’t find one instance of Cameron having prosecuted a case — criminal or civil,” Stumbo said, according to a story in the Owensboro Messenger. “It’s a serious question and one that needs to be resolved.”

He is right about that.

The plaintiff told WDRB that Stumbo is not behind the lawsuit, but Cameron’s campaign accused Stumbo of “old school bullying.”

“Cameron is more than qualified to serve legally — remember this is 2019 not 1819 — we will not let an old white career politician cheat a young qualified black attorney out of a fair election,” according to a statement issued by the campaign.

Perhaps Cameron is legally eligible to run for office. Still, the question Stumbo raises is the right one, and Cameron doesn’t seem to have a substantive answer... only a political one.

Attorney general is an elected position, so the very nature of it is somewhat political. Some wince at the idea of judges campaigning to be elected. So too is the concept of the chief law enforcement officer running on partisan politics cringe-worthy. But that is how it is done in Kentucky.

The attorney general is held to a higher standard than any other elected official (other than judges), even the governor. It is the only elected position that requires a professional degree. It’s also the only elected position for which the person is bound by two codes of ethics: government ethics and the Kentucky bar code of professional conduct.

The law is trying to protect the position of attorney general from becoming a purely political position.

This makes it even more troubling that Cameron’s limited experience is so intertwined with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the political Terminator. Cameron’s bio page on his law firm website says: “In his role as counsel for Senator McConnell, Daniel was responsible for ensuring the office’s compliance with the policies and procedures … also handled a robust legislative portfolio, which required a deep understanding of the federal judiciary ... ”

This means that what Cameron learned from Mitch is how to manipulate the political process — the political and legal strategies used to circumvent and corrupt the system to achieve politically partisan victories.

Cameron may be legally eligible to be attorney general. But he does not appear to have any prosecutorial experience, and he comes laden with a history of partisan politics.

I don’t particularly like Stumbo’s politics (particularly as it relates to coal), but I am confident that he won’t turn the office into a political extension of the governor’s office — or McConnell’s — because of his long record and experience as a lawyer.

Kentucky voters should expect their leaders to meet that low standard.