Quietly, but effectively, Republican Rob McKenna has taken the reins from incompetent tyrant Governor-For-Now Christine Gregoire, whose infamous ineptitude as AG cost the state millions.
McKenna, an intellectual heavyweight and hard worker on the King County Council, brings experience and expertise badly needed in that office.
One issue of contention, however: he's making few staff changes in the department. While I know for a fact, first hand, that some really suffered under Gregoire and couldn't wait to see her leave, there is also some housecleaning to do. I hope McKenna will adopt more of a reformist attitude in coming months.
(David Ammons-AP-Seattle Times)
McKenna is the kid in a candy store. The agency has 20,000 cases going at any one time, from the mundane, such as adopting obscure regulations, to the high-profile, such as the challenge to the 2004 governor's election.
McKenna notes happily that partisanship has little to do with it. He finds himself, for instance, defending the election of the Democratic governor and the actions of the Republican secretary of state.
Gregoire herself was hired and mentored by two Republican attorneys general, and McKenna is keeping virtually all of Gregoire's team. There's no housecleaning just because the party label has changed.
The office serves as legal adviser to every agency a shotgun marriage, McKenna wryly acknowledges and has assistants imbedded in the departments. Some agencies are so big and complicated that they have their own AG units Social and Health Services, Ecology, and Labor & Industries, for instance.
"The ethos in the office is to provide the most professional, unbiased legal advice possible," he says. "That helps us avoid partisan entanglements."
He's generally complimentary of Gregoire's tenure, but notes that a missed $18 million appeal and a subsequent backlash caused a "siege mentality" that he's trying to ease.
He's putting his own stamp on the office. His signature issue, which has drawn rave reviews from the state's newspaper editorial pages, is championing open meetings and easier access to public records.
He says his zeal for the issue reflects his view that government tends to run amok without checks and balances.
"I believe one of the most effective checks on government is openness and transparency. The ability of the public and the media to have access to information is key to preventing abuses and keeping our system as clean as possible."
McKenna also wants to expand the consumer-protection division, particularly in emerging areas such as cybercrime and identity theft.
He's also hoping to help the state greatly reduce its exposure to liability. The state is paying out about $150 million in settlements every two years, and is spending a like amount on negotiating and litigating.