Georgia’s next attorney general may have Thurbert Baker — and Barack Obama — to thank. Baker’s decision not to sue to overturn the new federal health law is bringing attention to the Georgia attorney general and the race to replace him.
“Generally, when you used to talk to folks,” says Sam Olens, a GOP candidate for the office, “the first comment you’d get back was, ‘Who is the AG and what does the AG do?’ They still don’t know everything the AG does, but they know [one thing] they want the AG to do.”
The controversy erupted last month after Congress passed the health bill and more than a dozen state attorneys general filed lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue asked Baker, a Democrat who is also running for governor, to join the lawsuits but Baker refused.
Now Perdue plans to tap a special attorney general for the case, while Georgia legislators are pursuing both a resolution directing Baker to file suit and articles of impeachment based on his refusal.
All of which is putting an unusual spotlight on the AG race. It’s a welcome development for an important election that risked being lost in the shuffle as races for governor and Congress hogged the attention.
“Quite frankly, my concern initially as a candidate was the lack of attention paid to this race,” says Max Wood, another Republican in the running.
But since the Baker-GOP dust-up, “We have seen a surge of interest in this race,” Wood says. So much so that he thinks the attention will be “second only to the governor’s race.”
It’s too soon to say whom the extra exposure will help most, but Republicans and Democrats alike see some benefits.
“I think it’s going to help the candidates have a broader conversation about the role of the law department, and what kind of AG [the people] want,” says Democrat Rob Teilhet.
“We’ve not had that conversation since the ’40s,” he adds, referring to the fact that, in recent decades, the race has always included an incumbent either elected or appointed to the office by the governor.
So, now that Georgians are paying more attention to the race, what kind of attorney general do we want?
That may depend on events and whether ObamaCare is an isolated instance of Washington extending its authority further than many states will accept or just the first in a new wave of cases relating to federalism.
Wood thinks it’s the latter.
“I think this is the future, as long as Barack Obama’s president,” he says. “I think you’re going to see these kinds of showdowns [more often] because this guy is pushing the envelope of federal encroachment [further] or faster than any president since [Franklin] Roosevelt, and possibly more than Roosevelt.”
That speaks to one of the great themes in American politics today: the balance of power and authority between the feds and the states. Those of us who don’t desire a shift toward Washington need to understand that our next attorney general will play an active role in preserving a balance.
At the same time, activism of another kind — against businesses, in the name of consumers — could stunt our economic recovery every bit as much as bad tax policy. Consumers already have it better in this country than anywhere else, yet Washington is moving in an ever-more interventionist direction. The feds don’t need help from Georgia’s next AG.
These are worthwhile debates. Because of Baker and Obama, we’ll finally have them.