Election 2010: Attorney General

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Next Tuesday, Alabama voters will choose a new Attorney General. Incumbent Troy King lost the Republican nomination to Birmingham Attorney Luther Strange. Strange’s Democratic opponent is Montgomery lawyer James Anderson.

If you need a lawyer, you might turn to the Yellow Pages.

‘Let’s see here. Licensed to practice law in Alabama since 1967. Thirty years of experience, over thirty years of experience. Board certified. Oh, this one has a poem in her had. That’s kinda cute.’

James Anderson and Luther Strange both have lots of legal experience-about 50 years combined. They’re not the kind of lawyers who advertise in the phone book, but they’re well-known in Alabama legal circles. Anderson, the Democrat, says his Montgomery law firm has tried thousand of cases.

‘Anything having to do with a trial, we pretty much do.’

Meanwhile, Republican Luther Strange has spent much of his career in corporate law, working on economic development issues.

‘Helping companies expand and grow, come to Alabama.’

Whichever is elected Attorney General will essentially be in charge of the state’s law firm – and that means dealing with companies and individuals they might have represented in the past.

Twelve years ago, Luther Strange worked as lobbyist for Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Strange says Transocean went through mergers and reincorporation over the last decade and isn’t the same company he represented. He says he wouldn’t have a problem representing the state’s interests in the case.

Anderson’s history also raises questions. He’s done legal work for the Macon County Sheriff in matters related to the VictoryLand Casino. Anderson says he the Macon County Commission paid for that work and he’s taken no money from VictoryLand.

How they’ll deal with prior clients is important. The issue of corruption is front and center with the recent indictments of 11 people in a bingo vote buying scheme. Both candidates say the state needs to do more to tackle public corruption.

Luther Strange says he’d start by building relationships between prosecutors and law enforcement. He says that partnership has languished under current Attorney General, Troy King.

‘So, my goal is to reestablish the relationship between the Attorney General’s office, the federal prosecutors, and local law enforcement officials to make sure public corruption is a priority at the state level. Obviously, it’s not right now and it’s got to be.’

James Anderson says fighting corruption starts with the state’s Ethics Commission. Anderson served as head of the commission in the early 90s. The commission doesn’t have the power to subpoena witnesses and records, but Anderson says he could help.

‘As Attorney General, I can give the Ethics Commission a subpoena anytime they want one, an Attorney General’s subpoena. I can make a statement to the legislature that as long as James Anderson is Attorney General, they’re going to get subpoena power through my office.’

One point of contention between the two candidates is the federal health care reform law enacted by Congress. Alabama is one of 20 states suing over the constitutionality of the law. Luther Strange says he would keep Alabama in that lawsuit. He says the health care law oversteps the Constitution by requiring people to purchase health insurance. James Anderson says the lawsuit is a publicity stunt that a cash-strapped state like Alabama can’t afford.

‘That is nothing more than a stand in the schoolhouse door.’

Despite their differences, both Luther Strange and James Anderson say they don’t want the strained relationship between their office and the state’s new governor, as is the case right now with Troy King and Bob Riley. Luther Strange says he wants to restore morale in the Attorney General’s office, and that might require more than a new Attorney General.

‘Replace the leadership at the top of the Attorney General’s office, so you have the best most qualified lawyers. You take the politics out the way the office is administered. Crime is not Republican or Democrat. It affects every citizen, so that’s our first order of business.’

In the meantime, James Anderson and Luther Strange are making their final arguments in the race for Attorney General. A verdict is due next Tuesday, when the voters of Alabama go the polls.