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Originally published January 22, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Page modified January 22, 2012 at 6:01 PM

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Shout down political ploy to strip state attorney general of powers

A bill proposed by four liberal Democratic senators is a brazen political ploy to strip the Washington state attorney general of his powers to challenge a law.

Seattle Times Editorial

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FOUR liberal Democrats in the state Senate have introduced a bill to strip the state attorney general's power to challenge a law. Their proposal is blatantly political and would damage the balance of power in Olympia.

The senators are Adam Kline and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, both of Seattle, Karen Keiser of Kent and Karen Fraser of Olympia. Senate Bill 6286 would allow the attorney general to challenge the constitutionality of a law only at the request of "the state officer with authority over the subject matter" — most likely the governor.

Clearly this bill targets Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, who joined a lawsuit against the Obama health-insurance law despite the opposition of Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat. McKenna is running for her job, and these four senators don't want him to have it.

They are free to campaign against him and to make issue of him putting the state's name to a lawsuit led by the attorney general of Florida. But it is wrong to take away McKenna's power and the power of future attorneys general, Republican or Democrat.

Kline, et al, might exercise their imaginations a little bit. Suppose in 2013 we have a Republican president — it is possible — a Republican governor and a Democratic state attorney general. Suppose our new attorney general wants to sue the Romney government over, say, its crabbed interpretation of the Obama health-insurance law, or its sabotage of Washington state's regime of legal marijuana passed by voters in November 2012. According to SB 6286, a Democratic attorney general could not do either one.

This bill is an attempt to change the rules of a game so that one side wins one game. But the existing rules are good rules. The attorney general's independent power provides a way to enforce our state and federal constitutions. As Metropolitan King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, who is a candidate for state attorney general, has pointed out in an open letter to Kline, stripping the attorney general of his power to sue would "leave Washington vulnerable to future unconstitutional policy decisions of partisan elected officials."

Also unelected ones. There is no good in SB 6286, and it deserves to be shouted down.

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