Democrats Vie For Oregon Attorney General's Job

Apr 23, 2012

Oregon Democrats will once again be virtually assured of choosing the next state Attorney General during their primary next month. That's because for the second election cycle in a row, no Republicans entered the race.

Oregon’s top prosecutor also happens to be one of the lowest paid attorneys in the state. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman found, It’s also one of the lowest paid Attorney General jobs in the nation.

Dwight Holton worked as a federal prosecutor for more than a decade. In his last two years on the job, he was the top dog in the Oregon office. That let him step into the spotlight on high-profile cases.

Holton: "The attack on the Islamic Center was an attack on religious freedom...”

That's Holton during a news conference last summer in front of a mosque in Corvallis, Oregon. He was announcing the arrest of a man suspected of setting an arson blaze there the previous winter.] On the campaign trail, Holton often cites his time as a federal prosecutor as a major reason why he's qualified for the Oregon Attorney General's job. Here he is at a debate at the Salem City Club.

Holton: “Working in the US Attorney’s office, we targeted internet child predators, and we put them in jail to keep our kids safe.”

But Holton's opponent in the Democratic primary, Ellen Rosenblum also knows her way around a courtroom. She retired last year after more than two decades as a state judge. Her TV ad reminds viewers of her long legal career.

TV Ad: “Ellen has spent 36 years as a lawyer, prosecutor and judge, protecting the most vulnerable.”

Rosenblum says she's ready to change roles from arbiter back to advocate. The candidate was getting over a cold when we spoke with her.

Rosenblum: "I want to reach out to the people of this state and make sure everybody understands that each and every day I'm going to be looking out for them, for their safety — both their personal and financial safety — and that's the role of Attorney General."

The winner of the Democratic primary has a virtual lock on winning the general election in November. The GOP failed to find a candidate. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2004 to find the last Republican who ran for Oregon Attorney General.

That would be Salem attorney Paul Connolly. He says the relatively low pay for the job might be a factor in why so few candidates have stepped up. Connolly notes that the Oregon Attorney General's assistants get paid more than their boss.

"Meaning that whenever there's a senior staff meeting at the Attorney General's office, the lowest paid person in that room is the senior-most person," Connolly says.

The Oregon Attorney General gets paid about $77,000 a year. That's one of the lowest A.G. salaries in the nation, and it's well below the starting salary at many Portland law firms.

Former Democratic state representative Greg MacPherson ran for Attorney General and lost in 2008. He says the low pay for this job doesn’t matter to a lot of lawyers.

"It just enables you to operate at a level in the profession that very few private practicing lawyers are able to function at," MacPherson says.

Naturally, the two Democrats running for Attorney General this year say the salary wasn't a deterrent.

"It's the best legal job in the state," Rosenblum says. "It is definitely a cut in pay, but it's a raise in the opportunity to serve the public."

"This is a job about leadership," Holton says. "And I don't think anyone in the room when I've been working with them has ever cared about what I'm making. What they care about is the ideas and the experience and the drive to get the job done."

Of course, the relatively low pay of the Oregon Attorney General may mean little to the typical Oregon voter. According to the Census Bureau, the median household income in the state is well below the A.G.’s salary, at just $49,000. [

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network