Dwight Holton has demonstrated the management and leadership skills that this state needs in its next attorney general.
The University of Virginia Law School graduate earned high marks in leading the 115-employee U.S. Attorney’s office in Portland in 2010 and 2011. Even though he was plucked from the rank and file and not nominated for the permanent job, he was far more than a caretaker.
Showing the political savvy one might expect from an offspring of a former governor (A. Linwood Holton Jr. of Virginia) and a passion for community outreach, Holton convened statewide meetings of law enforcement and health care providers to craft a strategy to combat the problem of prescription painkiller abuse.
After a suspect was arrested in an alleged plot to bomb tree-lighting festivities at Portland’s Pioneer Square, Holton sent a powerful message of tolerance to Oregonians by reaching out to local Muslims. Meanwhile, Holton persuaded skeptical city officials in Portland to rejoin a terrorism task force.
Before that, for 13 years Holton was an assistant federal prosecutor in New York and Oregon. He led the prosecution in a high-profile case in which an Egyptian shipping company admitted dumping oil at sea and paid a $7.25 million fine.
The other candidate in the race, Ellen Rosenblum, also would make a capable attorney general. After graduating from the University of Oregon School of Law, she spent five years in private practice in Eugene. Next, she worked for eight years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Oregon, handling cases ranging from mail and wire fraud to firearms violations. Rosenblum spent more than 20 years as a trial and appellate judge in state courts in Portland and Salem before retiring from the bench recently.
Oregonians are fortunate to have two such well-qualified candidates. With no Republicans or minor party candidates having filed to run for attorney general, it already was clear that the winner of the Democratic primary would land the job of leading the Department of Justice. But an announcement Tuesday that incumbent John Kroger is resigning this summer to become president of Reed College means either Holton or Rosenblum likely will take the reins sooner than expected.
In recent weeks, several narratives have emerged in this hard-fought campaign, and they merit some comment. These include Rosenblum’s depiction of herself as the only true Oregonian in the race and Holton as an outsider who lacks familiarity with the state’s justice system. She contends that “Dwight has never set foot in an Oregon state courtroom,” which, while perhaps technically accurate, overlooks the many public safety issues of vital importance to Oregon that he dealt with as a federal prosecutor and acting U.S. attorney.
Holton, meanwhile, has suggested that Rosenblum would be a passive “lawyer to the state,” while he would be a dynamic prosecutor and community activist. It’s a simplistic claim that overlooks Rosenblum’s record as a tough, effective federal prosecutor and a highly regarded jurist.
Rosenblum and her supporters have suggested that Holton wants to use the attorney general’s office as a stepping stone to higher office. Holton says he will, if elected, serve all four years of his term; his nearly a decade of residency in Oregon and service to this state surely elevates him above carpetbagger status.
Both candidates have impressive endorsements. Rosenblum’s include former attorneys general Dave Frohnmayer and Hardy Myers, as well as former Gov. Barbara Roberts and former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, pioneering women in Oregon politics who are no doubt eager to see Rosenblum become the state’s first female attorney general. Holton has the endorsement of 32 of Oregon’s 36 district attorneys and 25 sheriffs.
Either would make a strong attorney general, but Holton’s exemplary leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s office makes him the best choice.