State Journal: For the defense; Never enough?

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Legislative leaders in Idaho recently toyed with--but ruled out--replacing State Attorney General Larry EchoHawk with an independent lawyer to defend the legislature in a school-finance lawsuit.

Questions about Mr. EchoHawk's role had strongly partisan overtones, since he is a Democrat and the leaders of the legislature are Republican. Moreover, the finance suit currently focuses on the politically charged issue of how much the state spends on education.

Speaker of the House Michael K. Simpson said he and President Pro Tem of the Senate Jerry T. Twiggs were concerned that Mr. EchoHawk had not been aggressive enough in responding to what the lawmakers termed inaccuracies in the media about the case.

"There was concern on my part and on the pro tem's part that information was being put out to the public that ... needed to be responded to,'' Mr. Simpson said.

For example, he said, local news reports had erroneously described an earlier state supreme court decision in the case as an order to increase funding to public schools.

"That's simply not true,'' Mr. Simpson asserted. "All they've done is to remand the case to the lower court to examine the issue of thoroughness'' of funding for Idaho schools.

Steve Tobiason, a deputy attorney general and the head of the office's legislative and public-affairs division, said the problem arose because "the attorney for the plaintiffs was in some senses trying the case in the press and the attorney general wasn't following the same kind of approach on this case.''

After what Mr. Simpson termed "a very frank and open discussion'' with the attorney general, the lawmakers decided they felt comfortable leaving the case with Mr. EchoHawk.

"I think both of us agree we ... don't want the attorney general to try to make a publicity case of it,'' Mr. Simpson said. "What we do want is accurate information for the public.''

"I think you'll see [the attorney general's office] more active in responding to any inaccuracies,'' Mr. Tobiason said.

In announcing creation of a commission to study school-funding issues last month, Gov. William Donald Schaefer of Maryland displayed some of the blunt-spoken approach that has frequently brought him into conflict with the state's education and political establishments.

"Are we spending enough money?'' he asked. "The easy answer to that is you never have enough for education.''

"But I don't believe that,'' the Governor told reporters. "There might be enough money. There might be a need for more.''--M.S. & H.D.

Vol. 12, Issue 37

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