Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

WED 5-10-6 EDITORIAL >> AG: Suskie by a nose

Voters can hardly go wrong whomever they nominate for attorney general in the Democratic primary. State Rep. Dustin McDaniel of Jonesboro, City Attorney Paul Suskie of North Little Rock and Prosecuting Attorney Robert Herzfeld of Benton are all learned in the law, which is what the job requires, each has a record of accomplishment in his young career, all are reasonably progressive, and they are ambitious.

Ambition is the universal factor in attorney general elections. For more than a century, since Jeff Davis catapulted himself into the governor’s office by filing antitrust lawsuits to run 63 insurance companies out of the state only two months after taking the oath as attorney general in 1899, the job has been the surest ladder to high office. Two of the last three governors were attorneys general and the next governor is likely to be the present attorney general. Attorneys general almost always go for higher office — governor, U.S. Senate, the Supreme Court — after a term or two.

So the primary for attorney general is a preliminary vetting for the next governor, in 2010 or beyond, or the U.S. Senate. Voters may want to pay close attention to leadership qualities and not merely how they promise to conduct the state’s legal affairs.

McDaniel is the charismatic one. He has been an effective legislator, often but not always for the common good. His most troubling behavior was sponsorship of the law that allows cities to siphon off school taxes to help big land developers. He did it for a big Jonesboro developer and says his intent was never to hurt the schools. The courts, we trust, will save children from the law’s baneful effects, which will make it easier to forgive McDaniel for what we hope was an aberration.

Herzfeld has been an energetic prosecutor, bearding Gov. Huckabee for his freewheeling clemencies for criminals with good connections. Herzfeld also helped bring about legislation putting governors on notice that they must give their reasons for their pardons and clemencies, but the young prosecutor often plays to the peanut galleries.

Which makes our choice Paul Suskie, by a nose. As North Little Rock city attorney, he went after real estate that was used for drug deals. He shut down crack houses and evicted drug dealers and proposes to expand that initiative statewide. He strikes us as thoughtful and mature, a man of solid judgment. Someone, in other words, who might be a good governor someday.