PORTLAND -- The two candidates vying to be Oregon's next attorney general traded barbs Friday in a debate that pitted a three-term state legislator and corporate attorney against a law school professor with a record of putting mobsters and corporate scofflaws behind bars.
State Rep. Greg Macpherson and Professor John Kroger, both Democrats, outlined their vision for the Oregon Department of Justice and what would make a better attorney general: A seasoned lawmaker or a veteran federal prosecutor.
Macpherson, A Georgetown University Law School alumnus, said he has a "proven track record of protecting Oregonians," while Kroger said if elected he would use the "bully pulpit" to crackdown on polluters, drug dealers and scam artists.
Macpherson, a 57-year-old employee benefits attorney at the Portland firm of Stoel Rives LLP, said the attorney general should be a "leader and a visionary," who works with the Legislature to get the funding necessary to protect Oregonians.
Macpherson said his time in the state Legislature gives him a unique advantage over his opponent.
He said he will use the relationships he's forged as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and as a state representative to get from the Legislature what the attorney general's office needs to protect the state's consumers and their civil rights, and can protect the Beaver State's vast natural resources.
"I believe that the attorney general is the chief advocate for the people of Oregon. That means being an advocate for the many important things that affect the lives of Oregonians," Macpherson said in the hour-long debate sponsored by the City Club of Portland.
Macpherson has been endorsed by state Attorney General Hardy Myers and Gov. Ted Kulongoski, both Democrats, and many of his Democratic legislative colleagues.
In the debate, aired by Oregon Public Broadcasting, Macpherson noted his role in drafting a voter-approved initiative aimed at preserving farmland and open-space and leading successful legislative efforts to curb methamphetamine manufacturing.
He said he would build on the efforts of Myers, who has quietly led the state Department of Justice since 1996.
"Hardy Myers has been a distinguished attorney general... but the nature of the threats facing Oregonians have changed since he took office more than a dozen years ago," Macpherson said. "What we need is a very strong and very robust response to new threats coming at Oregonians particularly over the Internet."
Kroger, a 41-year-old Harvard Law School graduate and former U.S. Marine, pledged to use the office's bully pulpit to pursue polluters, expand drug treatment facilities and go after flimflam artists, particularly those orchestrating mortgage fraud schemes.
He said his vast experience as a federal prosecutor in New York has prepared him to fight for Oregonians, vowing to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and litigate cases himself to protect the interests of the state.
"As a federal prosecutor, I represented the United States in court over a thousand times," Kroger said. "I convicted mafia killers, drug kingpins, corrupt government officials. I worked on the emergency legal team that was convened after the 9/11 terror attack, and I prosecuted a crooked little company you may recall named Enron."
He said among issues he would address is the Oregon Department of Justice's lack of a dedicated attorney to pursue mortgage fraud complaints.
"We need to do more to protect consumers in this state," he said.
Kroger, who teaches criminal law and jurisprudence at Portland's Lewis & Clark Law School, said he comes to the attorney general's race with vast courtroom trial and appellate experience and a "deep background" in public safety.
His No. 1 priority, he said, is addressing the state's methamphetamine epidemic. He said overhauling the state's drug treatment programs is the key to reducing crime in the state.
"We deliver treatment after they're in the criminal justice system and turn them away before," Kroger said. "People every day go to drug treatment programs and they can't afford it and don't have health insurance. Those people wind up abusing and neglecting kids, losing their jobs and committing crime."
He said for every dollar the state invests in drug treatment programs it saves money elsewhere, in addition to lowering the state's crime and child abuse rates.
"For every dollar you put into drug treatment and prevention you save almost seven dollars in other parts of the state budget - on healthcare costs, prison costs, enforcement costs," he said.
Kroger has been endorsed by at least 17 county district attorneys, former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and state Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner, in addition to a group of labor unions.
Kroger and Macpherson will face off in the May 20 primary. No Republican candidate is running.
Macpherson said Kroger has a "distinguished" track record as a prosecutor, but that is not the job of the attorney general, noting that criminal prosecution is only a small part of the attorney general's function.
"If this election were for a chief prosecutor of New York mobsters, I'd vote for him," Macpherson said. "But that is not what the job is and that's not what we need."
Kroger shot back later in the debate, saying as attorney general he would pursue an "incredibly ambitious agenda" to help end the methamphetamine scourge, fight mortgage fraud and boost environmental protections.
"If I'm attorney general," he said, "I am going to get up every single day and work as hard as I can with every ounce of strength I have to make progress on these very important issues."