John Eastman (R)
Tom Harman (R)SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-John Eastman, a Southern California law school dean and conservative legal scholar, has all but formally jumped into the race for state attorney general, saying Wednesday that the state needs a constitutional scholar to serve as its next chief legal officer.
Eastman, dean of the Chapman University College of Law, told Legal Newsline that he is still in a "very aggressive exploratory phase," noting that he filed campaign papers this week solely because of the money he has been able to raise so far.
"We've raised about $100,000 in pledges just getting out of the box," Eastman said.
If he decides to officially enter the race for the Republican attorney general nomination, Eastman would join state Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach in vying to succeed Democrat Jerry Brown as attorney general.
"I am going to run to fix the mess that Jerry Brown has created for us," Eastman said. "And I am not going to do this if I am not going to win."
Eastman, 49, said he is the ideal candidate, noting that there are a bevy of constitutional issues that the next attorney general will have to grapple with, including retroactive payments to public employee pension funds, defending voter-approved initiatives like property tax-limiting Proposition 13 and possibly challenging the constitutionality of federal health care legislation pending in Congress.
"These are all areas of my particular expertise," said Eastman, a leader within the Federalist Society and a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Political observers say Eastman has strong conservative bona fides and would likely do well in the Republican primary.
"He is very well regarded in the conservative intellectual community," said Jack Pitney, once a GOP policy analyst who is now a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. "He has a good chance of rallying the Republican base."
As a candidate, Eastman "has potential," Pitney said, noting that Eastman has "great contact nationwide" and has fundraising experience as dean of the Chapman law school.
Pitney said Eastman would likely fair better in the Republican primary than Harman because Harman is seen as a "moderate" Republican.
"In California, the more conservative candidate has the advantage" in the Republican primary, Pitney noted.
If Eastman decides to run for attorney general, he can avoid losing his tenured position at Chapman by taking an administrative leave or a sabbatical.
Before being appointed dean of Chapman's law school in 2007, Eastman was director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a public interest law firm affiliated with the Claremont Institute, a conservative Southern California think tank.
Eastman earned his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1995. He has a Ph.D. in government from the Claremont Graduate School, and was the 1990 Republican nominee for Congress in California's 34th District.
As for Eastman never having served in public office, Pitney said that may actually play to his advantage.
"In 2010, there is a great skepticism about career politicians," he said.
Also considering a run for the Republican AG nomination is Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Democrats running for their party's nomination include Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico of Newark, Assemblyman Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara, Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer for the Web site Facebook.
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.