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By Janie Har April 19, 2012

Did Ellen Rosenblum say 80 percent of the attorney general's job is being a government lawyer?

Oregon is likely to pick its new attorney general in May. No Republicans are running for the office. Two Democrats are running this spring and will face any third party opposition in the fall. So far it’s been a low-profile contest.

But the candidates, Ellen Rosenblum and Dwight Holton, have traded several barbs. Holton, for example, says that Rosenblum has repeatedly claimed that the job of being the state’s top prosecutor is mostly being a government attorney, and not an advocate.

"She has said over and over again that this is a job where 80 percent of the job is being the government’s lawyer. I just don’t believe that. This is the Oregon Department of Justice and I take that word justice very seriously," Holton said in a radio interview with 1190 KEX.

Apparently Holton means it in a negative way and the Rosenblum camp takes it as such. "What Dwight is doing over and over is using that 80 percent number to inaccurately portray her as a candidate that doesn't understand the role and is just a bureaucrat," says Cynara Lilly, spokeswoman for the Rosenblum campaign.

A campaign barb under protest is fair game for PolitiFact Oregon. Did Rosenblum say it? Over and over? And what was the context in which she made the statement?

The Holton camp helpfully directed us to a radio interview Rosenblum conducted in January, with 620 KPOJ. The host asked her to explain the job of attorney general to audience members unfamiliar with the role.

"Well I think a lot of people don’t realize that about 80 percent of the work of the attorney general is representing the government agencies, and which in essence means representing the governor …" she said in response.

Rosenblum repeats the figure one more in that interview. And in response to a question on how she might distinguish herself from current Attorney General John Kroger, she said, "I would definitely want to focus on the highest quality of the advice that we give to the government agencies."

There’s no question Rosenblum made the point more than once. She may have repeated the figure elsewhere, as Holton’s people suggest although Rosenblum’s people deny that. (However, Rosenblum and her spokeswoman also denied she said it in the first place, and that is inaccurate.)

Still, here’s the part that really trips us up.

In that same January interview, Rosenblum talked about what she would emphasize, that the public may not know: Consumer protection, financial fraud, helping district attorneys, environmental protection, small businesses, and fighting for workers, children, families. In that way, she hit the same notes as Holton.

"The attorney general also is involved in so many areas and those that I would emphasize would include child advocacy," she said about two minutes in. "I don’t think a lot of people realize that about 300 employees of the attorney general’s office collect child support for those who are in arrears or on behalf of those whose exes or whoever have not kept up with their payments ."

We raised the issue with the Holton campaign. Is it fair to cherry-pick one statement to pound the point that the opponent has acknowledged the job is being the state’s lawyer, which it is?
"What we're talking about here is the difference in the vision of the job of attorney general," said Jillian Schoene, a Holton spokeswoman.

Schoene passed along this comment from her boss: "Providing excellent legal advice is a core mission -- but in my view, if that is all you do, you've failed -- because the attorney general ought to go to work each day to fight for families, not just answer the phone and provide legal advice," he said.
But that’s clearly not what Rosenblum has said or is saying. She’s not saying that’s all she’ll do.

Holton’s statement is partially accurate in that Rosenblum did describe the job of attorney general as 80 percent government work.

But there are important details missing: She said in the same interview that she would advocate on behalf of children, consumers, the environment and small businesses. We also think it would be impossible for Holton to wiggle out of representing state government if he is elected.

We find Holton’s statement Half True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources, "The Morning Update: Checking In With The Candidates: Dwight Holton, Running For Oregon AG," April 4, 2012, "The Morning Update: Checking In With The Candidates: Judge Ellen Rosenblum, Running For OR AG," April 6, 2012
620 KPOJ "KPOJ Mornings," Ellen Rosenblum, Jan. 6, 2012
620 KPOJ, "KPOJ Mornings," Ellen Rosenblum, April 5, 2012
620 KPOJ, "KPOJ Mornings," Dwight Holton, April 6, 2012
Emails from and interview with Jillian Schoene, spokeswoman for Holton campaign, April 16-17, 2012
Emails from and interview with Cynara Lilly, spokeswoman for Rosenblum campaign, April 16, 2012
Emails from Tony Green, DOJ spokesman, April 17, 2012

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