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Panel tables bill over electing attorney general

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Hawaii will remain one of a handful of states where the attorney general is appointed, after the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday rejected a proposal to make it an elected position.

The legislation would have asked voters to decide on a constitutional amendment making the state’s chief law enforcement officer a nonpartisan official elected to a four-year term.

Changing the way the attorney general is chosen would have removed power from the governor, who currently can name his choice of state leaders, subject to Senate confirmation.

The Hawaii Constitution consolidates executive authority under the governor by putting only that position and that of the lieutenant governor on the ballot.

"I don’t believe that having this as an elected position improves the quality of legal advice. In fact, I’m concerned about politicization," Attorney General David Louie told the committee. "Rather than concentrating on what is the right answer, there would be an element of political calculation."

In other states, attorneys general worry about how their actions will be perceived by the voting public, he said. In Hawaii, the attorney general can focus on the law.

Hawaii is one of five states where governors appoint their attorneys general, according to The Council of State Governments.

Forty-three other states elect the position. One state’s legislature appoints the attorney general, and another state’s supreme court makes the appointment.

Committee Chairman Gil Keith-Agaran said he tabled the bill because it didn’t draw much public interest.

"The issue of whether you have an elected or appointed attorney general cuts a lot of ways," said Keith-Agaran, D-Kahului-Paia. "In some ways, he could be viewed as being beholden to the governor."

Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-Kalani Valley-Diamond Head, also questioned whether an elected attorney general would be more objective than an appointed one.

"You bring up politicization," she told Louie. "The governor could be a political animal as well."

Louie is one of three of Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s appointees who have not yet been confirmed by the Senate. His confirmation hearings are planned for next month.

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Online:

SB1187: http://capitol.hawaii.gov/

 

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