An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Let's See What the AG's Office Can Do

Tom Perez, former prosecutor, civil rights attorney and consumer advocate, and current member of the Montgomery County Council, showed this writer a willingness to think outside the box to tackle important problems as he runs for Attorney General during an interview this week.

Saying that “only about 10% of the job” of the Attorney General is traditional criminal prosecution, he pointed to “the breadth and depth of experience I bring to the job” and the “number of unique perspectives on how government and the law can be used to serve people well” as reasons he would best be able to serve the people of Maryland.

Perez touted his own experience as being the best fit for the broad, diverse job of Attorney General of Maryland:

“Many people perceive the office to be a Statewide "State's Attorney" but it’s not. The bulk of the work is in the areas I described above -- consumer protection, health care, environmental protection."

"To be sure, there is work done prosecuting environmental crimes, health care fraud, etc. -- but that is a different kind of prosecution altogether that requires some manner of subject area expertise which I bring."

Perez presents a new perspective on what the Attorney General’s office can do, saying he wants to broaden the work of the AG’s office in innovative ways, for example:

"I think we can use civil rights laws to reduce health disparities for low-income and minority Marylanders. Consider, for example, that diabetes is a disease that disproportionately affects African-Americans. We can use the leverage of equal protection laws to ask why it is that most insurance companies don’t cover routine preventative foot exams to screen for diabetes. Cost = about $40. But the insurance companies happily cover the cost of below the knee amputations when diabetes takes hold. The AG has broad powers to investigate corporate practices, including those that might be discriminatory. I'm not suggesting necessarily that the practice is....but it’s worth asking the questions and seeing if we can’t find some reasonable solution with the insurance industry."

He pointed out that both of his opponents in the primary (former Baltimore State’s Attorney Stuart Simms and Montgomery County States Attorney Doug Gansler) “are criminal prosecutors by background." While he talked about his experience as a prosecutor, he gave examples of his other work that reflects on what kind of AG he’d like to be: “Working with my law students at the University of Maryland, we successfully sued the Ehrlich Administration on their decision to remove 4,000 pregnant women and children from the Medicaid rolls -- based on civil rights laws.”

Perez stood behind his bill against predatory lending, calling the fines it imposes a “significant deterrent” to the “few unscrupulous lenders …taking advantage of people." He also went on the offensive, saying “The Ehrlich Administration had utterly abdicated its responsibility to make funding available to Attorney General Curran for consumer protection. “

Perez points to his many endorsements which, in addition to state and local organizations, prominent people, etc. include "the entire law enforcement community in Montgomery County" and said “I'm the only candidate who has articulated a truly progressive agenda for the office on health care, the environment, etc.”

Go to candidates’ web sites if you want to get the boilerplate about their positions and priorities. I’m going to leave it at: “My three priorities for the office are to improve access to quality, affordable health care, to transform the office in terms of environmental protection, and to protect consumers from fraudulent and unfair corporate practices.”

Tom Perez For Attorney General 2006