By Dan Walters
January 28, 2016 – 4:00 PM
- Kamala Harris silent as Legislature weighs sports betting
- It should be a bedrock issue for an attorney general’s input
- Her passivity raises doubts about her being a U.S. senator
California’s attorney general has responsibilities and powers second only to those of the governor, and the office’s occupant is always in position to climb the political ladder.
Virtually every attorney general of the post-World War II era has aspired to higher office, many successfully – including the current governor, Jerry Brown, and his father, Pat Brown.
There is, therefore, a constant tension between what the attorney general should do as a matter of duty, and what would be politically advantageous.
Dan Lungren, the last Republican to hold the office, faced that dilemma in the late 1990s as he ran for governor.
A burning issue of the era was whether the state should allow casino gambling, and Lungren made comprehensive regulation a personal crusade.
Annually, he sponsored legislation that drew attention, usually hostile, from the embryonic gambling industry, which was spending heavily on lobbyists and campaign contributions.
He would personally walk the Capitol halls during the final hours of the annual legislative session, buttonholing legislators, trying to find a version that could pass.
Year after year, Lungren would come close, before facing defeat at the hands of legislative leaders who clearly wanted to keep the issue alive and milk more campaign money from gambling interests.
Eventually, via a ballot measure that Lungren opposed, Indian tribes won a casino gambling monopoly and Lungren lost his 1998 governorship bid.
Fast forward almost two decades. The attorney general is Kamala Harris and, true to form, she aspires to higher office – a U.S. Senate seat.
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