Attorney general: John Kroger

Remember the adult voices in the Charlie Brown television specials? They clearly had something to say, but all anyone heard was "wa-wah-wa-waaah-wah."

More often than not, that's the same message Oregonians receive during the race every four years for Oregon attorney general. Candidates drone on about upholding the tradition of the office of Oregon's top lawyer until the message turns to so much static.

This year is different, though, and the reason is a new kind of attorney general candidate: John Kroger.

Kroger has been in Oregon only five years. He lacks the deep Oregon roots that define his opponent, Greg Macpherson. His statewide connections are limited. He became a member of the Oregon Bar just last year.

And yet Kroger is as fine a candidate as the attorney general's race has seen in a long while. He should get Oregonians' vote in the race between two Democrats in the May primary. No Republicans have filed for the office, meaning the May balloting will decide the job unless another candidate emerges later.

Why should it go to Kroger? There's nothing wrong with Macpherson, a state representative since 2002. The son of Hector Macpherson Jr., who authored the state's original land-use planning laws, and grandson of Hector Macpherson Sr., also a legislator, Greg Macpherson has a deep record of public service all his own.

He was an integral part of recent legislation that banned over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine, a cold remedy used to make methamphetamine. This year, he helped pass a bill that would rejigger Measure 11 crime limits while avoiding extreme changes pushed by Kevin Mannix.

As many problems as he has helped solve, it's clear Macpherson would not do any major house cleaning in the AG's office. In the tradition of the current attorney general, Hardy Myers, the office would continue to focus on consumer protection, although Macpherson says he would raise the job's "profile."

But the post could use more than a profile lift, and Kroger seems clear on that. He looks around the state and sees need for serious change: first, in programs to tackle meth addiction, but also in new focus on collecting child support, attacking fraud and abuse in the home mortgage industry and prosecuting polluters who foul Oregon's rivers and air.

Oregon has too many children at risk, he says, and the only way for it to protect them is by going after the state's meth problem.

If Kroger doesn't have a long history in Oregon, he knows drugs and crime from a four-year stint as a narcotics prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in New York. He says he came to understand that tough sentences for drug crimes were important but not enough to change behavior. That requires both tough sentences on traffickers and treatment that helps addicts change their ways.

Kroger makes the case, convincingly, that emphasizing treatment could improve the quality of life for thousands of Oregonians.

The job has never been about a prosecutorial approach, a point Macpherson, an employee benefits attorney, uses to suggest Kroger is on the wrong path in his campaign. But it's clear from here that the attorney general could make a bigger difference if his approach was to seize and tackle problems rather than just to administrate.

Kroger alone appears to have the energy and drive to make that change happen.

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