October 23, 2010

UPDATED: A Multipurpose Attorney General

Justin Katz

I must need a civics refresher, because I've always thought that the attorney general was the top law-enforcement officer in the state — a job which sounds like it ought to keep a fella (or gal) plenty busy. But according to the Moderate Party candidate for the office, Christopher Little, the AG is another executive-branch officer tasked with solving all of Rhode Island's problems:

Take health insurance, for example. Its cost is out of reach already for many of our citizens and businesses, and increases continue unchecked. Yet our physicians and community health-care systems are under siege because of lack of money.

The attorney general should be the advocate for cutting costs in the system, which, in the short term are obvious — e.g., excess administrative costs — but the long-term cost control requires that we have talented physicians and healthy hospitals.

As for public utilities, why can't we strengthen our advocacy, as Massachusetts has, and insist that utilities be as frugal with their costs as Rhode Islanders must be in their homes and businesses? And, with respect to renewable energy, the attorney general should be at the forefront of assessing appropriate cost structures, so that we do not have a repeat of the Deepwater Wind process.

So we've got Democrat Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts blowing wads of cash on advertising to express incredulity that Cool Moose candidate for her office Robert Healey has no jobs program — even though the LG has no power to change anything, and we've got an AG candidate promising to help restructure the healthcare industry. I guess once a society crosses the line to accepting government's role in every aspect of life, the struggle moves within government, to various office holders all vying for more authority.

And then, of course, they'll all claim credit for any positive results, and voters will never have a clear picture of whom to hold accountable when "solutions" go bad.


In the comments, brassband notes the following:

Not to defend Little, but the AG has statutory duty to participate in PUC matters R.I. Gen. L. sec. 39-1-19, and is also required by law to house the office of Health Care Advocate.

Anyone running for that office needs to be prepared to handle a very broad range of matters, well beyond criminal prosecutions.

Let me acknowledge, first of all, that I apparently did need a minor civics refresher, although I'm not sure whether the General Assembly is or I am the one straying from political first principles, given this astonishingly broad mandate for the AG's health care advocate:

To take all necessary and appropriate action, including but not limited to public education, legislative advocacy, and where authorized by law to institute formal legal action, to secure and insure compliance with the provisions of titles 23 and 27 and to advocate for any changes necessary to support the goal of quality and affordable health care for all citizens of Rhode Island.

Little wonder Rhode Island has such a limited number of healthcare providers, with legislators fond of requiring things to be funded and executive officers explicitly tasked with beating down costs.

But returning to my specific targeting of candidate Little, I'd note my emphasis, in this post, on systemic political structure. I'd also point to brassband's careful phrasing that the AG is "required by law to house the office" described by the statute. He is not required to make micromanagement of finances his focus.

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I've said it before about Block, and now I'll say it about Little. These "Moderates" are non-Democrat statists who believe that they are "experts" who have all the answers for us, and want to use the power of government to force us all to accept their answers and bow down to their superior intelligence.

I got somethin' for you to bow to right here, bub...

Posted by: BobN at October 22, 2010 10:38 AM

Well, this makes me re-think my Lt. Gov vote now. If we're going to have an AG who isn't doing what is his job, then maybe we should have an LG who thinks he should do the AG's job, Bob Venturini.

Nahh, I'll vote Bob Healey.

Posted by: Patrick at October 22, 2010 1:22 PM

Not to defend Little, but the AG has statutory duty to participate in PUC matters R.I. Gen. L. sec. 39-1-19, and is also required by law to house the office of Health Care Advocate.

Anyone running for that office needs to be prepared to handle a very broad range of matters, well beyond criminal prosecutions.

Posted by: brassband at October 22, 2010 2:46 PM

Thanks for that, Brassband.

Given that those duties _are_ in the hands of the AG, I'd rather have the office run by someone trying as hard as they can on health care and utilities, in addition to busting corruption and inspecting contracts. Those are the things that actually matter most in the long term.

Making sure the rapist du-jour gets a harsh sentence is something that's 'routine' for that office, and therefore not very interesting to sell yourself on. Every AG candidate is going to be 'tough on criminals'. I want an AG who asks how you can have a 'non-profit' that pays $9M to the CEO and then turns around to ask for rate increases. I want an AG who carefully inspects the rates and makes sure they're commensurate with the actual costs.

Normally, I'd want the government to butt the hell out of compensation and rates, but non-profits have a covenant with society that's different than a typical corporation. I want BCBSRI to be under sensible limits the same way I think food stamp recipients should be barred from using them on soda and candy.

Posted by: mangeek at October 22, 2010 4:34 PM

There's a big difference between being the Healthcare Advocate and trying to be the federal government's local commander for the imposition of Obamacare.

Posted by: BobN at October 22, 2010 6:07 PM

I am trying to understand the advocacy for Healey. He is running for an office on a platform that he would abolish the office. However, if elected he would not have the authority to do so. If the goal is to abolish the office, wouldn't it make more sense to try to get that on the ballot as a constitutional amendent?

Why shouldI vote for someone who merely says that there should not be an Lt. Governor's office?

Posted by: Robert Balliot at October 24, 2010 10:11 AM
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