[Vision2020] Re-Elect Lawrence Wasden Idaho Attorney General

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Sun Aug 15 09:50:07 PDT 2004

>From today's (August 15, 2004) Spokesman Review -





Wasden Goes Own Way Amid GOP Tide 


Boise, UI scandals among high-profile controversies


Betsy Z. Russell

Staff writer

August 15, 2004


BOISE - Lawrence Wasden hasn't turned out to be the attorney general many


The quiet, little-known, longtime deputy in the attorney general's office
has been in office only a year and a half, but he has made waves by doing
everything from prosecuting the mayor of Boise for corruption to
successfully closing a campaign finance loophole that had benefited the


Wasden, like Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and former Boise Mayor Brent Coles, is a
Republican. But he's clashed at times with GOP leaders in the Legislature
and the executive branch as he pursued what he described as his duty.


"I know he's ruffled more than a few feathers," said Steve Shaw, a political
scientist at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa. "Given the almost
monopolistic kind of political power the Republicans have, they think of
themselves as a team. . He's obviously upset some of the folks on the
'team.' "


The clashes have even led to rumors of a primary challenge when Wasden comes
up for re-election in 2006, but he's unfazed.


"Will I have a challenge in the primary? I don't know, but let me tell you
right now, I'm running for re-election, and I'm going to keep doing exactly
what I'm doing right now," Wasden said in an interview. "And I guess people
will have to make a choice."


Two former Idaho attorneys general give Wasden high marks thus far.


"He's doing what he needs to do as the attorney general," said former GOP
Attorney General Jim Jones, who will become an Idaho Supreme Court justice
next year. "There are often a lot of misconceptions about what the attorney
general does. He runs on a political ticket . but on the other hand you have
a responsibility to the people that goes way beyond any political obligation
you may have to the party."


Jones added, "You often are in a situation where if you do your job as
you're supposed to, you get sideways with either the Legislature or the
executive. That's just part of the job."


Tony Park, a Democrat and former Idaho attorney general, said, "He's had the
backbone to stand up to the people that I know are bringing enormous
pressure on him to do things differently. I've been there and done some of
that, so I know the kinds of political pressures that can be brought to


Here are some of the high-profile issues Wasden's dealt with so far:


. Shortly after taking office, he prosecuted Coles, who is a fellow member
of the Mormon Church, and several aides in a political corruption scandal
that ended the mayor's career.


. Wasden has aggressively pursued the University Place scandal involving a
failed University of Idaho satellite campus project in Boise that drained
millions from the university, though his office has bowed out of the
criminal prosecution of the case citing a conflict of interest. He pressed
unrelentingly for an extensive state-commissioned report on the debacle to
be made public, and it was, to the embarrassment of many politically
powerful people across the state.


. During this past year's legislative session, Wasden joined with Secretary
of State Ben Ysursa and House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, both Republicans, to
sponsor legislation closing a campaign finance law loophole that had allowed
Kempthorne to skirt contribution limits while using excess campaign funds to
cover everyday expenses such as meals, flowers and haircuts. The bill
passed, and Kempthorne signed it, saying, "It would be difficult not to."


. When GOP legislative leaders urged Wasden to appoint a special attorney to
challenge the voter-passed Indian gaming initiative, Wasden refused, saying
his duty as attorney general is to defend Idaho's laws, not challenge them.
The decision earned him harsh criticism from Senate Majority Leader Bart
Davis, R-Idaho Falls.


"He has had an amazing number of high-profile issues, and has been, I think,
very independent and very clear in doing what he felt was his job," said
Boise State University political scientist Jim Weatherby. "I suspect there'd
be a lot of people who would give him very high marks for independence,
which is somewhat rare in this one-party state."


Wasden said, "It is true we have had a number of very intense and
high-profile matters to deal with."


But he said he's just doing his job.


"I have a role to play, which is a role that's sometimes at odds with other
folks, and they get distressed and upset about it," Wasden said. "My job
isn't to worry about that. . What I'm doing is fulfilling my duty in my role
as attorney general."


Wasden notes that he knew some of the people involved in the Boise City Hall
corruption scandal. "But my decision to go forward wasn't based upon
political party, religious affiliation, my personal knowledge, friendships,
or any of those kinds of things," he said. "That isn't the issue. The issue
is did I take an oath, did I have a job to do? And the answer is yes."


He said some have misunderstood his decision on the gaming initiative. As he
made clear in his election campaign, Wasden opposes all gaming.


"But the fact of the matter is what I personally think isn't relevant to
this issue," he said. "The people made the choice, it's the law, and my duty
is to defend it."


Wasden followed an unusual career path to the attorney general post - one
that was largely inside the attorney general's office. After a brief stint
in private practice and a year and a half as a deputy county prosecutor, he
went to work for the attorney general's office in 1989 as a deputy attorney
general representing the state tax commission. He later held positions
including deputy chief of staff and chief of staff.


All of Idaho's recent attorneys general had partisan backgrounds, serving in
the Legislature, running for other elective office or working for
politicians, Weatherby said. "I don't know how far you'd have to go back to
find someone as closely associated with that office."


Park said, "The attorney general's office by its very nature is a highly
political office, and ambitious young men and women go for it. So it is
unusual to see someone from within actually run for it and get elected."


Wasden had a tough fight to win election, first in a four-way Republican
primary and then in a general election face-off with prominent attorney and
Democrat Keith Roark. Wasden said his long service in the office gave him
some advantages.


"The transition for me was pretty easy," he said. "I picked up my papers at
one desk, I walked through a doorway, I sat down at another desk and
transition was completed."


But he doesn't claim to do things exactly like his predecessor, Al Lance,
for whom he served as chief of staff.


"In the last year we have taken a different direction," Wasden said. "It's
just kind of me expressing through my office my ideas."


Wasden notes that he was Canyon County Republican chairman and vice
chairman. "Some people have said I'm politically naive," he said. "I
understand the political consequences, but I am more compelled by my duty
and my oath, and let the political chips fall where they may."


Jones said, "Historically, attorneys general around the country have not
fared well in primary elections, but . you have an obligation to the people.
And you've got to take that responsibility fairly seriously, and sometimes
it's going to get people upset with you from your own side of the fence.


"I think he's been doing that," Jones said of Wasden, "and I'm kind of proud
of him. I hired him in 1989 to work at the tax commission, and he's worked
his way up through the ranks. He hasn't been a showboater, he's been very


Wasden, 46, said he's "not out here trying to make everybody mad."


"But when you have an obligation, then you fulfill that obligation without
regard to the personal consequences," he said. "That doesn't mean that
you're naive and don't recognize that there will be consequences."


Both Shaw and Weatherby said Wasden's independence is unlikely to get him
defeated in the next primary and may, instead, help him with voters.
However, Shaw said it could affect his chances in a future race for a
position that's more highly partisan, if he were to seek another office.


"I'm just a normal person," Wasden said. "And I really am trying as hard as
I can to just do the right thing. . I take that very seriously."



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