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December 8, 2006
A Shadow Attorney General?

After narrowly losing his race for governor, most of us expected Mike Hatch to take an extended vacation and then go into private practice. Instead, his replacement as Attorney General has suggested that Hatch could work for her and help run the office, which raises questions about whether Hatch arranged to effectively run for two offices at the same time:

Attorney General Mike Hatch will vacate his big office in the west wing of the State Capitol when his term ends in early January, but there's a chance he'll stay on as a staff member under Attorney General-elect Lori Swanson, who has been his long-time top deputy and confidante as solicitor general.

The arrangement would be unusual and potentially controversial, say some observers, creating a perception that Hatch is still in charge of an office that he held for two terms and often has described as his life's passion.

Swanson said Thursday that she has asked fellow DFLer Hatch to consider serving as a regular assistant attorney in the office. ...

David Schultz, a Hamline University law professor and expert in ethics, said that Hatch going to work for his former subordinate appears to be legal, but that it would make some citizens wonder "if the tail is wagging the dog. Would he be seen as the de facto attorney general? It raises all kinds of questions about who's running things, given the close relationship they've always had."

Schultz added, "Voters also have to be wondering whether Mike Hatch was running for two positions, governor and attorney general, this fall. It will be hard for him to go from top banana to second fiddle, and you don't ever see this kind of dynamic work. The smartest thing when a leader leaves is to really leave."

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Hatch working for Swanson would look "odd, like kind of a switcheroo. It kind of reminds you of when Governor George Wallace [of Alabama] had his wife run for governor, and everybody knew who the real governor was."

Hatch says he'd only take the position for a short time if he does accept Swanson's offer, and Swanson insists that she would remain in charge. She claims that Minnesota does not want to lose his skills as a top-flight legal talent, but the arrangement would be highly unusual, to say the least. Swanson has worked for Hatch both in private practice and in the AG office for years, and that history will create a strange dynamic for the other assistant AGs who might well wonder where the power lies.

It also calls into question the selection of Swanson for the DFL nomination. Matt Entenza had won the nomination for the race, but had to withdraw after it came out that Entenza had spent considerable money spying on ... Mike Hatch. After the Entenza withdrawal, the Democrats had to choose a replacement for the ballot, and Hatch strongly backed Swanson for the job. Under those circumstances, it's not hard to see the quid pro quo, especially for a man like Hatch who likes power and wields it without much thought of the consequences.

Swanson should reconsider her offer to Hatch, and quickly. Otherwise, her term in office will certainly appear to be nothing more than a front for the former Attorney General with more ambition than sense.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 8, 2006 5:10 AM

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