Berkowitz proposes independent attorney general

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The attorney general should pursue policies and legal actions that are in the best interest of Alaskans and not the governor's office, the Democratic candidate for governor said Friday.

Mark Thiessen / The Associated Press
Mark Thiessen / The Associated Press

Ethan Berkowitz presented his plan to sever that connection.

"We can't fix the economic problems of Alaska when we're still trying to clean up the ethical mess," he said, at a news conference attended by lieutenant governor candidate Diane Benson.

By doing so, it would "enhance the checks and balances to protect against abuses of power and to make sure the rule of law is upheld," Berkowitz said.

Gov. Sean Parnell's campaign manager Michelle Toohey said in a statement that, "Alaska's attorney general and Governor Parnell are men of the highest integrity. Ethan's attacks won't interfere one bit with Governor Parnell's efforts to ensure that good jobs are available for Alaskans who are working to raise their families."

"Governor Parnell will continue to fight the federal government when it limits our resource development and our freedoms," she said.

Under Berkowitz's proposal, the governor would still select the attorney general, but that person would no longer serve the governor's office. Berkowitz said he's never supported having an attorney general be elected.

"I think what you want to do is have an attorney general that serves justice, not that serves the pursuit of elected office," he said.

In his plan, the governor also would not have the power to fire the attorney general. Instead, Alaska would join 46 other states in providing the governor's office with its own lawyer.

If Alaska had that system in place two years ago, Berkowitz said the state would have saved money instead of having to hire outside attorneys during the Troopergate investigation of former Gov. Sarah Palin and her staff.

Berkowitz also took aim at his opponent, Parnell, saying the governor violated terms of the state constitution by hiring two legislators for newly created positions. Both lawmakers ultimately resigned the jobs, but only after Attorney General Dan Sullivan acknowledged shortcomings in the legal analysis and advice his department gave Parnell on hiring one of them.

"What Sean Parnell did violates the very terms of the constitution, and I think any sensible lawyer would have been able to say, 'Don't do that,"' he said.

And by severing the attorney general from the governor's office, the state's top lawyer would be able to take action against the governor if there were any violations, he said.

"Alaskans should have, all Americans should have full confidence that the people that are charged with executing the laws do so according to the law, not according to desired political outcome," he said.

Berkowitz also proposes that the governor no longer have power to remove members of the Personnel Board, which investigates and oversees ethical reviews in the executive branch. Instead, that function would go to an independent attorney general or the Legislature.

Under his plan, Personnel Board members also would be limited to one term so there's no effort to curry favor with the governor to get reappointed.



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