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Friday, December 08, 2006

Will Hatch Work for Swanson?


Attorney General Mike Hatch will vacate his big office in the west wing of the State Capitol when his term ends in early January, but there's a chance he'll stay on as a staff member under Attorney General-elect Lori Swanson, who has been his long-time top deputy and confidante as solicitor general.

The arrangement would be unusual and potentially controversial, say some observers, creating a perception that Hatch is still in charge of an office that he held for two terms and often has described as his life's passion.

Swanson said Thursday that she has asked fellow DFLer Hatch to consider serving as a regular assistant attorney in the office.

Perhaps he would have special responsibilities for assembling a team of lawyers who handle particularly complex litigation, she said.

Hatch is an "incredibly talented" and "phenomenal" attorney, Swanson said, "and when you have a team, you look for all the talent you can find."

Hatch said that he has not decided whether to take the offer and that if he does, he probably will stay no more than a few weeks, or however long it takes to get the complex-litigation team going. Swanson said she viewed the offer as "not necessarily indefinite. "There are lots of offers that I'm looking at," Hatch said, from law firms, companies and other institutions. "If I accept [the Swanson offer] it would be for a short period."

David Schultz, a Hamline University law professor and expert in ethics, said that Hatch going to work for his former subordinate appears to be legal, but that it would make some citizens wonder "if the tail is wagging the dog. Would he be seen as the de facto attorney general? It raises all kinds of questions about who's running things, given the close relationship they've always had."

Schultz added, "Voters also have to be wondering whether Mike Hatch was running for two positions, governor and attorney general, this fall. It will be hard for him to go from top banana to second fiddle, and you don't ever see this kind of dynamic work. The smartest thing when a leader leaves is to really leave."

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Hatch working for Swanson would look "odd, like kind of a switcheroo. It kind of reminds you of when Governor George Wallace [of Alabama] had his wife run for governor, and everybody knew who the real governor was."

Ouch! Direct hit from Seifert.

This is bad press for Lori Swanson. This was her response:

Calling the shots

Swanson said such perceptions are off base.

"I will be the attorney general, and I'm going to call the shots as I see them," Swanson said. "I'm passionate about the work of the office, I believe in the work of the office, and it's the reason I jumped into this race."

When the DFL Party's endorsed candidate for attorney general, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, dropped out of the race last summer, Hatch made it clear that Swanson was by far his favorite choice to replace Entenza on the ticket.

Swanson won the primary and general election with Hatch's advice and support, and Hatch has described Swanson as one of the top advisers and strategists for his gubernatorial race.

He said Swanson, who worked for Hatch's law firm before he was elected in 1998, was one of the strongest personalities in his office and not the kind of person who is seeking or who would take orders from her former boss.

The job offer was a "noble offer," Hatch said, and Swanson eventually will be remembered as "the most impressive attorney general we've ever had."

In other personnel decisions Swanson appears to be essentially keeping the top layer of officials that Hatch had in place. Swanson said Kris Eiden will stay on as a chief deputy, and Al Gilbert, another top Hatch deputy, will take Swanson's position as solicitor general.

Hatch already is in the process of moving out of his office and is working part of the time from Swanson's office in downtown St. Paul, Swanson said.

When the Strib's Syl Jones wrote a devastating column attacking Mike Hatch, Swanson wrote a counterpoint defending Hatch.