Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pho Endorsements Pt. 1: Subodh Chandra for Attorney General

Last year the Cleveland Indians won 93 games, but did not make the playoffs. It was only the second time since realignment that 93 wins was insufficient to clear to the postseason. It’s like that sometimes. You get after it hard, you bring your best game, it’s good enough to win any other year, but this time, someone is just better.

I was thinking of last season while contemplating this, the weekend of the Tribe’s home opener, and the Democratic primary for Attorney General. In any even-numbered year since 1994, State Sen. Marc Dann would be about the best candidate for any statewide office. Any year but this one. This year Subodh Chandra is just better.

It’s not often the candidate I like best on issues and qualifications is also the most electable. It’s even more unusual for the most promising candidate to be the smartest guy in the room. Both are true of Chandra.

First, to the qualifications. One of the most important duties of an Attorney General is administering a huge law firm. I have the experience of moving from one the office of a prosecutor who had been on the job for more than a decade to the office of a newly-elected prosecutor. I saw the learning curve in effect. Dann can talk a good game about how he would manage the office, but his administrative experience as far as I can tell is a small law practice and a smaller legislative staff. Chandra has actually managed a large public firm – the Cleveland Law Department. He not only managed it, but by all accounts, turned it around. (Check my MTB post for more on that.)

The touchstone issue in this election is Republican corruption and the touchstone corruption in the AGs race will be pay-to-play politics in outside counsel. Only one candidate on either side has a proven track record of the only reform that accomplishes anything – radically reducing outside-counsel spending. The outside counsel issue is tailor-made for Chandra. Dann’s labyrinthine plan for “reform” can’t compare to Chandra’s actual record of accomplishment.

I’m also impressed by Chandra’s experience as a litigator, both in a major business litigation firm and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. As Attorney General, it’s unlikely he will be directly involved in much complex litigation – hence Dann’s crack during the MTB debate that Chandra is running for First Deputy AG. But to supervise attorneys involved in complex litigation, it helps a hell of a lot to have done it yourself. Chandra will now what the issues are, at a glance he will be able to assess how well the case is being litigated, gauge the prospects for success and advise his assistant AGs how to proceed and how to negotiate. When a large firm picks an attorney to manage its litigation department, they generally don’t grab someone from tax. They pick their brightest litigator because that’s who can tell what the hell is going on.

Chandra’s experience also plays to electability. I think he’s right – only a prosecutor can beat a prosecutor. Betty Montgomery leapt into statewide office twelve years ago by beating Lee Fisher over the head with her record as a prosecutor. How many times in that campaign did we hear (in her nasal whine), “Lee Fisher has never even tried a criminal case”? I don’t want to hear that again this year.

Both Dann and Chandra have done great service to their party and to the public. Both have good ideas – not that far from each other – about how to use the Office of the Attorney General as a force for social and economic justice. But Chandra has a track record that puts him over the top.

Finally, if the two were more evenly matched, I would probably pick Chandra because he has the potential to be a genuinely transformative political figure. He has absolutely sick game on the stump. Not only can he deliver the hell out of a speech, he can craft the speech to appeal to everyone in the room. He can simultaneously rouse the regular joes and brainiac law wonks in the room. He’s John Kerry with charisma; Bill Clinton with moral credibility. The Democratic Party could do worse than put such a man in statewide office.

To shift analogies from the opener, in 1975, when he one the Grammy for “Still Crazy After all These Years,” Paul Simon began his speech by thanking Stevie Wonder for not releasing an album that year. It is my sincere hope that someday Marc Dann can begin a victory speech for a statewide office by thanking Subodh Chandra for not running. For now, my clear choice for Attorney General is Subodh Chandra.

If you're looking for more information about the candidates, don't forget Meet the Bloggers. Subodh Chandra and Marc Dann each did individual interviews, and the two came together for a debate.


Jill said...

Nice job, Scott. Thanks.