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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2002

Election 2002

Attorney general candidates in tight race

Express Staff Writer

The race for Idaho attorney general this year is widely viewed as the only remotely close race for state office.

The office is charged with advising state officials and the Legislature on legal matters, representing the state in lawsuits and handling criminal appeals.

Current Attorney General Al Lance chose not to run for re-election. He has since been nominated to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Affairs.

Republican Lawrence Wasden, Lance’s chief of staff, and Hailey Democrat Keith Roark are vying to replace him. The race pits Wasden’s administrative experience of 13 years in the AG’s office against Roark’s 25 years of experience in the courtroom.

In Republican-dominated Idaho, Wasden’s party affiliation may be his biggest advantage. He will benefit not only by party-line voting, but also by the fact that he can claim a better working relationship with the likely winners of elections for executive branch and legislative positions.

Lance has endorsed Wasden, who was involved in negotiating the state’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy on nuclear waste, the national tobacco lawsuit and the dispute over President Clinton’s roadless plan for national forests.

Roark, one of the state’s best-known trial attorneys, has tried to put a negative spin on that affiliation. He has contended that the office under Lance failed the state on several occasions, pointing to its losing land under Lake Coeur d’Alene to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and to its court losses in redistricting and land board cases.

In an interview, attorney general’s office spokesman Bob Cooper contended that those losses were due not to shoddy legal work, but to substantive problems with the cases. In the redistricting controversy, he pointed out, the attorney general’s office found itself having to defend a position contrary to the advice it had given the Legislature.

One responsibility of the attorney general is to sit on the five-person state board of land commissioners, which decides how to use state lands for grazing and timber harvests.

One such issue that affects Blaine County is an attempt by the board to allow gravel mining on a parcel of state land in Ohio Gulch, despite a county zoning ordinance that prohibits such a use. A 5th District Court judge has ruled against the state’s argument that its constitutional mandate to earn the maximum financial gain from its land supersedes local zoning laws. The case is now before the Idaho Supreme Court.

Donations to Roark’s campaign amount to almost $155,000, including about $68,000 of his own money in loans and in-kind contributions.

Wasden’s campaign has received about $125,000, of which $25,000 has come from companies affiliated with Melaleuca Inc., a multi-level marketing company based in Idaho Falls that sells health, beauty and home-care products.

The attorney general’s office investigated Melaleuca’s sales practices in 1991 after receiving complaints from prospective distributors. Brett DeLange, deputy attorney general in the Consumer Protection Division, said the investigation concluded that some of Melaleuca’s representatives had misrepresented products, but that the company’s marketing program was sound. He said the company agreed to enforce its program to eliminate improprieties. DeLange said the attorney general’s office has received 81 complaints about Melaleuca since then, of which 66 were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainants.

Wasden told the Idaho Falls Post Register that the Melaleuca contributions would have no effect on his decisions in office if he were elected.

An additional point of controversy arose in the race Monday when the Idaho Republican Party modified a radio ad attacking Roark for "taking money to testify on behalf of a convicted murderer who sits on Idaho’s death row." Roark objected to the ad on the grounds that even though he had testified that double murderer Mark Henry Lankford had been inadequately represented, he was not paid for that testimony. The reference to receiving money was eliminated from the ad.

State Republican Party Chairman John Sandy told The Associated Press that the party was not trying to disqualify defense attorneys from running for attorney general, but only to alert voters of the nature of Roark’s career.



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