Op-Ed: Running the state’s largest law firm requires a proven and courageous leader

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Raul Labrador recently expressed some ill humor towards me for questioning his understanding of the duties of the Idaho Attorney General. From what he says, you would think the AG is simply spending its time helping extremist lawmakers draft their legislation and signing off on legal briefs written by AGs in other states.

The job of the Attorney General is actually much more complicated than that. The AG is responsible for managing the largest law firm in the state with 125 attorneys, as well as investigators, paralegals, and support staff. These individuals provide legal advice and assistance to state agencies. It is essential that government officials obtain the best possible legal advice so that they act within the law. This saves the state a lot of money.

Wasden earned a reputation for fearless leadership for the state of Idaho. In 1995, the US Department of Energy (DOE) entered into an agreement with the state to clean up nuclear waste from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The waste was just above the precious groundwater table of the Snake River Plains Aquifer. When the federal government sought to extend the cleanup deadline, Wasden stood firm, insisting that the cleanup continue — the only official in Idaho to do so. He took tremendous heat for it, putting his job on the line amid claims he was endangering jobs and labor at the INL. He has remained faithful to his weapons and, oh surprise, the cleaning has just been completed and the INL is doing very well. It wouldn’t have happened without Wasden’s brave stance.

When Idaho Power Company took action to reverse some of the water protections designed to protect the water rights of Idaho farms, towns and businesses in the landmark Swan Falls Agreement, Wasden sued the business in court. The parties reached an agreement in 2009 that strengthens water rights protections for Snake River water users located upstream from Swan Falls in Ada County.

Wasden negotiated water rights agreements with the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Percé tribes on terms favorable to the state and fought against the excesses of the federal government in its claims for water rights. He vigorously sought to protect the states’ authority to adjudicate federal water claims in state courts.

Labrador makes no mention of these fundamental bread-and-butter issues that are so vital to the future of our state in his campaign pitch. There is no indication that he knows anything about water rights or any of the many other important issues the Attorney General is called upon to deal with every day of his tenure. With Idaho facing the prospect of years of drought, it is critical that we have an Attorney General who has a proven record of protecting Idaho’s water.

Instead, Labrador criticizes Wasden for an opinion questioning the constitutionality of a bill aimed at preventing transgender athletes from participating in sports. What Labrador did not say was that a federal judge agreed with Wasden’s constitutional analysis. Wasden was only doing his job, as required by his oath of office, to honor the constitutions of the United States and Idaho as interpreted by the courts. Was Labrador insinuating that he would violate that oath by telling lawmakers what they wanted to hear? I believe that the decision of the federal judge would always be the same.

An honest AG is required to write opinions that accurately state what the law is, rather than what the AG thinks it should be. His personal convictions must be set aside when giving constitutional advice. Otherwise, the state will be sued and could face significant damages and attorneys’ fees.

The Idaho AG must have common sense, an understanding of the law, proven management skills, a dedication to the rule of law, and a strong dose of courage. Wasden fits this bill perfectly. A reputable private law firm would not appoint someone who does not fit this profile. The largest and most important law firm in the state should not be run by someone who simply cannot live up to this high standard.

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as an Idaho Supreme Court Justice (2005-2017). He is currently a regular contributor to The Hill’s online news. He blogs at JJCommonTater.

CONNECTIONS:

Wasden held firm:

https://magicvalley.com/article_e97bc390-9789-561a-96e9-369a7e28e90b.html

The cleaning has just finished:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article260138180.html

The parties reached an agreement in 2009:

https://idah2o.org/SUMMARY%20of%20Swan%20Falls%20Reaffirmation%20Agreement%2004-06-09.pdf

Prospect of drought years:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/environment/article258556723.html

A federal judge agreed:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/politics-government/article245032205.html

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