|Wed, Sep. 26, 2007|
Young lawyers battle in attorney general primary
Sunday, May 14, 2006
By Aaron Sadler
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK - In sound bites and speeches, the men who would be attorney general are a cop, a soldier and a prosecutor.
The three lawyers, all younger than 35, embrace the stereotypes in advertisements. In interviews, they try to be more as they clamor to win the Democratic nomination as Arkansas' top lawyer.
Dustin McDaniel, who eschewed law school for law enforcement, Paul Suskie, a National Guardsman just back from Afghanistan; and Robert Herzfeld, the Saline County prosecuting attorney, square off in the Democratic primary May 23.
A runoff, if necessary, will be June 13.
The three tie their campaigns to their experience: McDaniel, now a state representative, walks down the street flanked by police officers in one commercial; in another, Suskie, North Little Rock's city attorney, shows pictures of himself in camouflage in the Afghan desert; Herzfeld moves about a courtroom in his television ad.
In one-on-one campaigning, the candidates insist they are more than a one-word description.
"I don't think you have to have served in the military or in a combat zone to be attorney general," said Suskie, 34, a National Guard major. "You just realize this country is a miracle. It gave me a perspective that I don't think I could have gotten in 30 or 40 or 50 years."
One of Suskie's substantive proposals is linked to his service. He proposed creation of an Office of Veterans' Advocacy as a division of the attorney general's office. The veterans' agency would cater to veterans who need government assistance.
Similarly, McDaniel said he would create a health care bureau to enhance protection of consumers having trouble with drug companies, health insurance companies or other medical entities.
Herzfeld proposed adding satellite attorney general's offices across the state, utilizing other space in other government agencies for that purpose. The goal is to make the AG's office more accessible to the general public.
Herzfeld, 32, is emphasizing his experience in the courtroom and in managing a prosecuting attorney's office. The first-term prosecutor touts his lawsuit against Gov. Mike Huckabee, which pressured Huckabee to overhaul his procedures for granting clemencies.
"As a prosecutor, I have the most experience and the most relevant experience," Herzfeld said. "As the opportunity arises, I'd love to get in the courtroom, but my real desire is to help shape and craft public policy in Arkansas."
Suskie, who has worked for the city of North Little Rock for about a decade, said he has long worked to craft laws in conjunction with the state Legislature.
"I was writing laws before these guys ever held office," Suskie said. "I've been involved in the legislative process in the state since 1998. My opponents, I don't think, had their law license yet."
McDaniel, 34, was elected to the Legislature in 2004. He quickly took on a cause to fight prescription drug costs, pushing through a bill that allows Medicaid to negotiate with companies for lower drug costs.
Herzfeld claims the endorsement of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, though. Herzfeld said it's because he is developing policies that would make the prescription drug system better.
McDaniel said he maintains his hold on the health care banner, saying a decision not to back a pharmacist-supported bill last year cost him the endorsement.
Like his opponents, McDaniel said his work experience shaped him as a leader. He was a Jonesboro patrolman in the mid-1990s.
"I think an understanding of what law enforcement experiences every day is invaluable to being their advocate and their lawyer," McDaniel said.
He said he has conducted polling that has him in the lead in the primary race, though he expects a runoff.
McDaniel also leads in campaign cash, with $551,337 raised at the time of the candidates' last financial report. Suskie had raised $350,086 and Herzfeld $262,311.
Both Herzfeld and Suskie are quick to point out that McDaniel's total includes about $150,000 that he loaned himself.
"Dad always said you must be doing something right if everybody's shooting at you," McDaniel said, taking a quote from his father, noted Jonesboro defense attorney Bobby McDaniel. He and campaign staffers call the elder McDaniel "The General."
"(Opponents) have argued about who was second, but not about who was leading," McDaniel said.
Herzfeld acknowledged that the race was difficult, since McDaniel has a geographical advantage in predominantly Democratic northeast Arkansas. He and Suskie are battling for central Arkansas votes. But Herzfeld bluntly said he will be on the ballot opposite McDaniel in a runoff.
"I think Paul Suskie is a great guy, I think he's got a bright future," Herzfeld said. "I don't think he'll be in the runoff, but he's a friend of mine and I wish him well."
The Democratic nominee faces Gunner DeLay, a Republican and former state legislator from Fort Smith, on Nov. 7.
Suskie laughed off Herzfeld's prediction. He said fellow Guard members and other supporters are rallying a strong "ground game" on his behalf.
"I don't think the candidates decide," Suskie said. "I think the voters decide. I think we've got a lot of momentum out there."
Suskie said he plans to save Entergy Arkansas customers from exorbitant utility rates by fighting a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision to pass on Entergy Louisiana costs to Arkansas customers. He has effectively used civil lawsuits to shut down drug houses in North Little Rock. He said he would broaden the civil-lawsuit program by asking for legislative authority for the attorney general to bring such suits.
Herzfeld has taken a get-tough-on-drugs stance, proposing stiffer penalties for methamphetamine manufacturers and other stricter drug sentences. His plan has been roundly criticized by McDaniel, who said he believed Herzfeld improperly used taxpayer money to conduct a 2004 survey that led to the drafting of some of his campaign initiatives.
McDaniel focused on fighting big oil companies, proposing to fight price gouging at the gas pumps. He also said he would put his legislative experience to use by lobbying former colleagues in a traditional AG role, supporting consumer protection laws.
It's McDaniel's legislative experience that leads to the loudest criticism by his opponents. Both bash McDaniel for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) legislation.
The TIF law freezes most property taxes in a redevelopment district in order to attract economic development projects.
McDaniel amended the state's 2001 TIF law last year, retooling the law to further define what constitutes a "blighted area" and exempting library, county hospital and pension fund taxes from being frozen under the law.
Herzfeld claimed private developers were rewarding McDaniel for the TIF legislation with campaign contributions because the legislation favors developers and "takes money away from education."
"The legislation that Dustin wrote and sponsored allows private property to be taken for private purposes and I think that's wrong," Herzfeld said.
McDaniel said his amendments actually restricted the law and made it more difficult to create a TIF district. He said that the definition of "blighted area" in the TIF legislation should be amended to ensure protection of private property, specifically farm land. Both Herzfeld and Suskie have criticized McDaniel because they believe the blight definition is too broad.
The three men agreed in their praise of Mike Beebe, the current attorney general who is leaving the office to run as a Democrat for governor.
They applauded the state's handling of the Lake View school funding case, and said they hope the Legislature has done enough to meet a Supreme Court mandate to improve public school funding.
The three also said they do not favor any changes to restrict the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
NAME: Robert Herzfeld
AGE: 32. Born in Oklahoma City, July 25, 1973.
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat
OCCUPATION: Attorney, Saline County prosecutor
EDUCATION: Graduate University of Mississippi, 1993; graduate Emory University School of Law, 1998.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Elected Saline County prosecutor, 2002
FAMILY: Wife Karma. Two sons, Leo, 4, and Hank, 3.
NAME: Dustin McDaniel
AGE: 34. Born in Fayetteville, April 29, 1972.
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat.
EDUCATION: Graduate Jonesboro High School 1990; graduate University of Arkansas at Fayetteville 1994; graduate University of Arkansas at Little Rock law school 1998.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Serving first term in Arkansas House of Representatives.
FAMILY: Wife Amanda. Daughter Emma Grace, 5.
NAME: Paul Suskie
AGE: 34. Born in Little Rock, June 6, 1971.
HOMETOWN: North Little Rock.
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat.
OCCUPATION: North Little Rock city attorney.
EDUCATION: Graduate Little Rock Catholic High School 1989; graduate University of Central Arkansas 1993; graduate University of Arkansas at Little Rock law school 1996.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Elected North Little Rock city attorney in 2000, re-elected in 2002.
FAMILY: Wife Erica. Two children, Paul Jr., 6, and Lily, 4.
NAME: Gunner DeLay
AGE: 42. Born in Fort Smith, June 14, 1963.
HOMETOWN: Fort Smith
PARTY AFFILIATION: Republican.
EDUCATION: Graduate Fort Smith Southside High School 1981; graduate University of Arkansas at Fayetteville 1985; graduate University of Arkansas at Little Rock law school 1988.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Elected state representative in 1994 and 1996 and state senator in 1998. Ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2001.
FAMILY: Wife Robin. Four children, Taylor 19, Gunner Jr., 16, Caroline, 15, Suzanna, 13.