Ever since the D.C. Council voted 7-6 last fall to delay the first Attorney General election until at least 2018, we’ve been working to get that election back on track for 2014—because that is what the people of the District overwhelmingly voted for back in November 2010.
As you may have heard, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and David Grosso and Chairman Phil Mendelson have introduced a bill that would respect D.C. voters and get the election back on track. Under that bill, the Attorney General election would take place this November, with candidates running as members of parties and collecting signatures to get on the ballot. This is exactly what is done in special elections. It’s also the only practical way now that the Council can allow time for a full and fair election this year and carry out the will of the voters.
At the February 10 hearing on the bill, and in supplemental testimony submitted this week, we joined the vast majority of witnesses testifying in strong support. Unfortunately, one person at the hearing spoke in opposition: the current appointed Attorney General. He argued that the bill is unlawful because, he said, the Charter requires the election to be partisan; and he said that requirement cannot be satisfied unless candidates are actually nominated onto the ballot by their party, either through a primary or through some other party endorsement process.
But this is plainly incorrect.
As we and our pro bono partners at Latham & Watkins LLP explained at the hearing and in supplemental testimony to the Council, candidates run as partisans all the time in the District without the formal endorsement of their party. After all, this is how special elections for Council work and those elections are mandated by the Charter to be partisan. Such elections are also treated as partisan elections under federal law.
In fact, eight members of the current Council were first elected in partisan special elections. Since the Attorney General election under the current bill would be nearly identical to a special election, there’s no question that it too would be partisan.
It’s surprising that the Attorney General, who advised the Council not to delay the election, now advises that it has no authority to restore that election to 2014. It’s also surprising that the Attorney General would tell the Council it cannot now put the election back on track for 2014, given that the Attorney General’s lawyers successfully urged the D.C. Superior Court to refuse to order a primary on the ground that there were other ways to hold the election this year.
We hope the Council recognizes that the current Attorney General’s concerns are without merit and that it is time to elect a new Attorney General. We urge the Council to pass the bill and allow the voters’ call for greater democracy to move forward.