NAAG President’s Inaugural Remarks

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden

June 21, 2007
Atlanta, Georgia

Thank you.

A year ago, when I was campaigning for re-election, my wife Tracey and my daughter Ashley, had some fun.

On Halloween, they dressed my grandson Carter, who was not quite a year old at the time, in a three-piece, navy blue pin-striped suit, pasted a ?Lawrence Wasden? campaign sticker on his suit coat and took him around our neighborhood for ?Trick or Treat.?

Some of my staff started calling the poor kid ?Mini-Me.? I tried to take the whole thing in stride, although I wasn?t too sure about the Dr. Evil implication.

But in a way it fit. A lot of little boys want to be a fireman or a policeman or a baseball player when they grow up.

Not me.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an attorney and a public servant.

There were times when it seemed that this goal would turn out to be just a pipe dream? but it sure was a persistent one.

I?m very fortunate to have realized my dream. And I feel even more fortunate tonight to have been chosen by you, my fellow attorneys general, to serve as your president for the next year.

Thank you for the confidence you?ve expressed in me.

This would not have been possible, of course, without the support and encouragement of my family.

My Mom always told me if I worked hard I could grow up to be President. I?m not sure she was referring to NAAG, though. Moms tend to think big!

My Dad, who was a pharmacist, was always a source of strength and encouragement. He taught me the meaning of quiet, dignified work. Thank you both for being with me tonight and for all your sacrifices on my behalf.

Most of you know Tracey, my wife and my best friend. (For clarity, I?m only talking about one person!)

Tracey is also my campaign manager and deserves much of the credit for my political success. A lot of people who seek public office will vent to their spouse about disagreements with their campaign manager and vice versa. For me, that doesn?t work so well!

Tracey, thank you for your tireless support and for always being there for me.

I also want to thank my children and their spouses for their support. As you all know, for all the plusses of this job, there are some minuses, too. Public service and political campaigns mean a lot of time away from home, missed birthdays and missed football and basketball games. Sean and Chelsie, Ashley and Curtis, Cassidy, Blake? thank you for understanding and for standing with me. I couldn?t ask for a better family.

It is an honor, to accept this gavel from Thurbert Baker.

During his year as President, Thurbert kept us on the right track and recognized the need to scrutinize the school safety issue. Under his leadership, we have updated our constitution and bylaws to comport with modern practices.

One of the things I really appreciate about Thurbert is that he makes a real effort to listen to all sides and make sure everyone has a place at the table when its time to make the hard decisions.

Thank you, Thurbert, for your service to NAAG and for the courage you?ve shown in meeting your responsibilities as Georgia?s Attorney General. I?m looking forward to continuing to work with you over the next year.

I?m also looking forward to working with our President-Elect, Patrick Lynch? a man who stands tall and always shows a willingness to deal with the difficult matters. Besides, he is poetry in motion when we play DOJ in basketball.

I?ll be relying on both of you, and the rest of our talented and hard working Executive Committee for leadership and counsel to function as NAAG?s ?think tank.?

Thanks also, to the NAAG staff for their hard work and dedication to public service. You are a dynamic and professional group. The Attorneys General appreciate what you do on our behalf.

I would also like to share my appreciation for those former Attorneys General who remain committed to our purpose and to NAAG. The members of SAGE are an invaluable source of institutional knowledge and history. Thank you for your dedication. I hope to draw on your wisdom in the coming year.

As many of you know, I served six years as the Chief of Staff for my predecessor, Al Lance. Becoming President of this organization -- after having served as Chief, as well as Attorney General -- is rare -- but not unheard of in this organization. In fact, in 1934 President Schnader was elected as President of NAAG and he had previously served as Chief Deputy. I am sure there are others in NAAG?s history. President Schnader described chief deputies as the ?brain trust? of Attorneys General. It is a privilege to have served as part of that brain trust. At the end of his term in 1934, and in what may seem to us as an unusual move, President Schnader turned the gavel over to Deputy Attorney General Ernest Averill of CT who had been elected as President of NAAG. You heard it here and from the annuls of NAAG history. We elected a Deputy Attorney General as President of Attorneys General.

Finally, I would be remiss? and severely punished? if I did not recognize my Executive Assistant, Janet Carter. Janet and I have worked together for more than 11 years now. She keeps me organized and keeps things moving. Janet, thank you for your friendship and hard work over all those years.

I?d like to read a little bit of an article about us that most of you probably didn?t see in The New York Times this morning.

?Action that may have far-reaching effect in anti-trust and corporate litigation and which may bear fruit in almost every State, was taken by the convention of Attorneys General in its final session here today. A committee was appointed to draft a scheme of anti-trust legislation to be sent to all Attorneys General and, as a climax, the Attorneys General adopted a resolution, which is expected to aid in removing a thorn in the flesh of the State Officers, the interference of Federal Circuit Courts with the operation of state laws.?

I can say with confidence that you didn?t see it in The New York Times this morning, because it wasn?t in today?s edition. It was the New York Times? report on the first meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, published nearly 100 years ago? on October 2, 1907.

As you know, the big issues for our predecessors? anti-trust litigation and state conflicts with the federal government... have all been resolved and no longer occupy any of our time.

The article continued:

?A permanent organization was also effected under the name of the ?National Association of Attorneys General of the United States? and a united front will be presented in legal actions brought by the different states against the same corporation or trust.?

So much for the theory that multi-state litigation is something new that began with tobacco!

We?ve all had fun with our acronym, NAAG. Sometimes, among ourselves, out of earshot of the staff, we spell it ?N-A-G.? Governors are fond of referring to us as the National Association of Aspiring Governors.

Fortunately, someone had the sense to drop the ?United States? from our official name, sparing us from being known as ?NAAG us.?

Joking aside, NAAG has become an important institution and has served the attorneys general, the states, the nation and our citizens well for the last century. We should congratulate ourselves and our predecessors for the leadership and accomplishments of our association and we must take care to preserve the fellowship and credibility of NAAG for the next 100 years.

When the Attorneys General met in St. Louis to create NAAG, Theodore Roosevelt was President.

Today, his White House biography says this about him.

?As President, Roosevelt held the ideal that the Government should be the great arbiter of the conflicting economic forces in the Nation, especially between capital and labor, guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favors to none.

In many ways, Attorneys General have inherited the mantle of Roosevelt?s ideal ?that the Government should be the great arbiter of the conflicting economic forces in the Nation? guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favors to none.?

We continue to be the leaders in anti-trust litigation and most of us have been given consumer protection responsibilities, as well.

We continue to cooperate and coordinate among our offices, not only in litigation, but also in consumer education, natural resource issues, criminal matters and the professional education of our staff attorneys, who represent us in the courts.

In many instances, Attorneys General have served as incubators of democracy, as our ideas are enacted into state law and then mirrored at the federal level.

Leadership by the state Attorneys General resulted in the spread of state Do Not Call laws, ultimately leading to establishment of the National Do Not Call Registry. As a result, millions of Americans have a little more quiet time with their families, largely free from annoying and unwanted telephone solicitations. Currently the federal government is considering requiring sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses after several Attorneys General successfully launched similar state initiatives.

Leadership by state Attorneys General is bearing fruit in lowering the risk of identity theft because of better protections for personal information and state statutes requiring notification of consumers when the security of their personal information is breached.

Leadership by state Attorneys General has, so far, preserved VOCA funds for their intended and proper use? assistance to victims of crime.

So, harking back to a really bad tobacco commercial? we?ve come a long way, baby. Tobacco pun intended!

Now, 100 years later, we return full circle. We are still in a leadership role in anti-trust enforcement?. protecting the free market by protecting competition and protecting consumers from anti-competitive practices.

In 1907 the first multi-state was directed at the Standard Oil monopoly. 100 years later, one of our more common citizen complaints is ?the price of gas.?

There is little debate that the nation?s energy needs play significantly into the present international conflicts and that the resolution of our energy needs is essential for future realization of the American Dream.

We?ve known since the 1970 oil embargo that dependence on foreign oil is our country?s most significant national security? and economic security? exposure.

Yet, 37 years later, our nation has made little, if any, progress toward the goal of energy independence and, as we know all too well, our constituents are suffering due to ever increasing petroleum prices.

Our challenge, then, is to address this issue, not as policy makers, but within our role as legal representatives of and legal advisers to our respective states.

This brings me to the 2007-2008 Presidential Initiative: ?Providing Effective Energy Counsel to State Government; An Attorney General?s Perspective.?

Demand for energy will continue to grow as our population continues to grow. Home sizes are increasing and the high-tech boom means we all have more energy using gadgets.

Blackberries, cell phones, Ipods, personal and workplace computers and, big screen TV?s all increase the demand for electricity? in some cases, even when they are turned ?off.?

Nearly every Attorney General?s office fields complaints about gasoline prices. We must understand the limits of our authority and our capabilities to address these issues within our own state or in cooperation with other states. But, this issue is far larger than simply the price of gasoline. As we heard in the discussion this morning, in Massachusetts v. EPA the U.S. Supreme Court addressed global warming and stated that government cannot ignore climate change. We cannot counsel our clients to ignore the effects of climate change.

How much can we rely on alternative forms of energy? Has the time come to re-visit nuclear energy? Can wind, waves and other seemingly ?Far-out? ideas become significant sources of energy?

My presidential initiative will address these issues in a two-day conference that will bring industry, government, and science around the same table to discuss these issues openly and frankly in order to prepare our offices to meet the challenges the energy issue will present in the future. We need to be able to distinguish reality from rhetoric on this important issue.

Although, as I?ve mentioned, our responsibilities continue to include the anti-trust and sovereignty issues that caused our predecessors to form NAAG 100 years ago, it is clear that the position of Attorney General is not the same office that it was 100, 50, or even 10 years ago.

This evolution has been good for Attorneys General and good for society as a whole.

The visible actions of the Attorneys General create a more informed active citizenry and foster citizen interest in government.

It enables the office of Attorney General to be a dynamic force for positive change.

Although most of us are elected and run for office as a member of a political party, the role of Attorney General is decreasingly partisan.

Justice is not red or blue. For example, there is no red or blue way to litigate a criminal case.

We must carefully avoid partisan legal analysis of issues to protect our credibility as the objective legal representatives of our states.

The spirit of bipartisan cooperation and nonpartisan legal advice has always been the glue that binds us together at NAAG.

At a time when our nation is mired in partisan gridlock in Washington, we can?t afford to give that up. I will work to prevent NAAG from becoming a litmus test organization.

We must renew our dedication to fulfilling the role of the Attorney General:

To provide accurate, objective legal advice to our clients;

To be advocates for Justice in all situations? even when the news may not be well received or when justice has been overlooked or delayed. I can?t think of a better example of such advocacy for Justice than Attorney General Roy Cooper in the Duke case.

To work proactively to respect the work of other Attorneys General and the sovereignty of other states.

I look forward to continuing the great work that Thurbert Baker began with respect to School Safety. Our children and our families are our most precious resource, and I will continue this important project.

The efforts of the MySpace Multistate are important to us all. In Idaho, I?ve made Internet safety one of the priorities of my tenure in office. I know that many of you are involved in similar efforts. I look forward to continuing this work and keeping parents and children as up to date as possible regarding this constantly changing technology.

The Tobacco settlement will continue to affect most of us. Thank you, Rob and Terry, for taking on the responsibility and work that comes with this project. Many of our states rely heavily on our success.

I also note that NAAG has created a plaque to memorialize, to steal a phrase from the MSA, ?in perpetuity,? the efforts of the Tobacco Committee Chairs. Tom and I appreciate having our names included on that plaque and fervently hope that each Attorney General here tonight someday will share the joy of having his or her name added to this roster. It?s a safe guess that Rob and Terry share in that wish!

Agesilaus the Second, a King of Sparta, said, ?Courage is of no value unless accompanied by justice; yet if all men became just, there would be no need for courage.?

Attorneys General often confront situations in which justice requires courage.

As we have seen among our colleagues in the past few months, we can, in difficult cases, be hailed as heroes or condemned as villains by the politically fickle courts, media, public, and occasionally, ourselves. The volatility of our detractors or our supporters shouldn?t direct our decision-making.

I consider myself lucky to count you, the Attorneys General of our United States, among my friends.

You have served me as mentors and supporters.

I plan to draw upon your collective wisdom and courage in the coming year.

Thank you for this opportunity, I look forward to serving you as the president of the National Association of Attorneys General.

I hope that our combined legal resources and talents? and a bit of the Bully Pulpit of the Offices of Attorney General? can help our states, our country and our people move toward energy independence and a more secure and prosperous life.

I ask that you join me in that effort.

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