Defining the AG job

Story by Chris Graham

When we think the words attorney general, we think crime and justice.

We don’t think about the role that an attorney general plays in how government runs on a day-to-day basis.

Just because we don’t think about it doesn’t mean that it’s not an important part of the job.

“The attorney general is the counsel to all the agencies and departments in state government. That deals with our executive-branch agencies, that deals with our public universities and community colleges. The attorney general’s office provides advice and counsel and represents all those agencies and departments and universities and colleges when litigation ensues. The attorney general’s office also has the responsibility, regardless of whether he is a Democrat or Republican, to provide advice and counsel to the governor. And in addition to that, upon the request of a legislator, the attorney general is to give advice and counsel regardless of party affiliation to any legislator who seeks advice and counsel,” said State Del. Steve Shannon, D-35th, in an interview with “The New Dominion Show” this week.

Shannon is considering a run at the 2009 Democratic Party attorney-general nomination. As such, he has given what an AG does a lot of thought.

As has Ken Cuccinelli, a Northern Virginia state senator who is in the running for the 2009 GOP attorney-general nomination.

Cuccinelli brings an activist mindset to the question of how he would serve as the state’s top lawyer.

“The attorney general’s office advises, gives legal advice, to all the state agencies. And I know that as an attorney of many years now that my clients are very uncomfortable not going with my advice. And if I’m the one who’s doing the advising to all these state agencies, I would expect that I would, as I do now, tend to interpret the law in a way that is the least expansive, and would have the most tendency to rein in government activity, without completely handicapping agencies from performing their functions and their role,” Cuccinelli told me in an interview last week for “The New Dominion Show.”

“That’s a very subtle opportunity to help shrink, or keep small, government. And that’s something that I believe very much in,” Cuccinelli said.

Shannon has a different idea of how the attorney general should approach these issues.

“It’s really important that the attorney general is seen as an honest broker, as opposed to a partisan. Because when any of us speak to a lawyer, you want to know that you’re speaking to an honest broker, somebody who is going to vigorously represent your interests, somebody who’s going to give you straight advice, somebody who’s going to fight for you,” Shannon said.

“I think any good attorney general strives to make government work better for the citizens, and that’s certainly a role that I’d be very interested in taking,” Shannon said.

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