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April 30th, 2008 WW Editorial Staff | Special Section Stories
 

Oregon Attorney General

Democrat

     
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Greg Macpherson

Tattoo he'd get: Of Oregon, and keep it “undercover.”

Few choices were harder for WW in this primary, which matches two very different candidates for the state’s top law-enforcement position: state Rep. Greg Macpherson, a three-term legislator from Lake Oswego, and John Kroger, a Lewis & Clark law professor with impressive experience as a federal prosecutor in New York.

Macpherson is a senior partner at the state’s largest law firm, Stoel Rives. His diffident, understated personality matches his legal speciality—setting up employee benefit programs. It’s worth noting that in 33 years of practice, he has never tried a case in court. Macpherson may not be the most electric dinner companion. But he has proven himself one of the smartest, most effective and most courageous legislators in Salem. In our admittedly unscientific but eerily accurate “Good, Bad and Awful” surveys rating state lawmakers, he always scores right at the top.

Macpherson led an effort in 2007 that found a fix for perhaps the state’s most contentious and vexing conflict—how to deal with land-use planning by helping to craft Measure 49. Four years earlier, Macpherson embarked on what for a union-backed Democrat was a near-suicide mission. Drawing on his professional expertise, he crafted legislation that reduced public-employee pensions when mounting unfunded obligations threatened to cripple the state. The rookie lawmaker (whose father and grandfather were also distinguished legislators), risked his political future by crossing the state’s most powerful special interests.

Macpherson’s opponent, Kroger, has a compelling bio. He’s an Ivy League-educated former Marine who worked for President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) before going to law school. As a federal prosecutor, he went after mobsters and Enron executives (excuse our redundancy). Six years ago, he moved to Portland and became a law prof. Now he wants to run the state’s largest law firm—the Department of Justice.

Kroger has made it clear that under his leadership, the AG’s office would be far more aggressive than it has been under three-term AG Hardy Myers, who is retiring. Kroger vows to be both tough on crime but smarter—he wants to boost treatment for meth addicts, rather than simply jailing them. He also pledges to dust off Oregon’s environmental laws and criminally prosecute repeat polluters. His steely approach has convinced most county district attorneys and law enforcement groups, as well as some key enviros.

Given his credentials and promise to butcher sacred cows, Kroger is an appealing candidate. Yet, we are troubled by his positions in two key areas.

First, he is a strong supporter of Kevin Mannix’s Measure 11, the 1994 initiative that created mandatory sentences, led to an explosion in the state corrections budget and severely limited the discretion of judges. Second, Kroger has painted himself as a fearless independent beholden to nobody. Imagine our disappointment, then, when we asked him how he would have voted on Macpherson’s 2003 pension reform. He said he wasn’t sure.

Kroger’s campaign is fueled largely by public-employee unions, who are so aggrieved at Macpherson’s legislative work they would probably drop big checks on Ashlee Simpson if she were running against Macpherson (at last count, Kroger had received $180,000, or about a third of his contributions, from public employees).

Macpherson may lack Kroger’s potential for brilliance, but we know he’s an outstanding legislator with integrity and the ability to find consensus. Strikes us that those are good skills to run the state’s largest law firm.

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Video of WW endorsement interview(thanks to Portland Community Media)

 
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