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Editorial: Wilson should resign from Republican Attorneys General Association

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Trump Impeachment

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, right, went to Washington last year as part of an effort by the Republican Attorneys General Association to prevent the removal of the president. He's joined by attorneys general, from left, Steve Marshall, Ala., Leslie Rutledge, Ark., Jeff Landry, La., and Curtis Hill, Ind. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

We’re glad to see S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson repudiate his former deputy’s efforts to drum up attendance at the rally that spawned last week’s deadly insurrectionist assault on the U.S. Capitol, and to state in unequivocal terms that Joe Biden is the legitimate president-elect.

It certainly doesn’t undo his reckless decision to join in a lawsuit that went far beyond the effort to have the courts retroactively reinterpret the U.S. Constitution and carelessly — or perhaps carefully — tossed about words such as “fraud” as it trafficked in innuendo about alleged voting irregularities. Even though that lawsuit was legally permissible, it clearly was an effort to throw out the votes of millions of Americans and overturn the results of the presidential election.

Still, his comments on Monday are a step in the right direction.

A good next step would be to resign from the Republican Attorneys General Association.

The problem with the association isn’t that its now-former executive director, Adam Piper, orchestrated a robocall campaign encouraging “patriots” to attend the election protest. We find it credible to believe that Mr. Piper didn’t think his bosses would object and so undertook that action on his own, without consulting with Mr. Wilson or other leaders in the organization.

The problem is that the association never should have been created in the first place. It was started in 1999 when a handful of Republican attorneys general decided they needed to counter “the lack of commitment by their Democrat counterparts to defend federalism, adhere to the law, and apply a commonsense, free market approach to governing.”

Truth be told, we’d probably agree more often with the Republicans’ perspective on constitutional questions than the Democrats.’ But state attorneys general are first and foremost state officials. And after that, they are prosecutors. Although it’s hard to completely depoliticize elected officials, attorneys general need to stay as far away from party politics as possible. They are at their core state legal officers, not policy makers.

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Instead, this organization was near the vanguard of the nationalization of our state governments and the hyper-politicization of the work of attorneys general — both of which have helped push all of us to viewing all things through a partisan lens. It wasn’t alone, of course; Democratic attorneys general quickly formed their own association, which also shouldn’t exist.

Those two organizations — like similar organizations for secretaries and state and lieutenant governors — focus primarily on raising money to get attorneys general of their party elected in other states, something that frankly is none of their business. (We don’t like the partisan organizations of governors either, but that ship has sailed.) They also serve as networking associations that help perpetuate partisan lawsuits such as the one Mr. Wilson supported to try to overturn the election. And they have overshadowed the national organization that brings together state attorneys general to learn from each other about creative solutions to common problems.

If Mr. Piper’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because he was the political operative with no legal experience whom Mr. Wilson took with him to the attorney general’s office as deputy chief of staff. As such, he attempted to launch a political smear campaign against Solicitor David Pascoe, who eventually brought corruption charges against Mr. Wilson’s political confidants.

And that brings us to a larger truth about Mr. Wilson: Although all the attorneys general have joined these destructive partisan associations, he has had a particularly difficult time keeping partisan politics out of the inner-workings of his office. He didn’t understand it when he hired Mr. Piper, and kept him on his staff for years. He didn’t understand it when he allowed political activist Richard Quinn to serve, in Mr. Quinn’s words, as his “de facto press secretary,” helping him decide how to spin his decisions, and even what his decisions should be, involving criminal prosecutions.

Mr. Wilson has done some good work as attorney general. But the more he allows himself to function as a partisan hack, the more difficult he makes it for us to remember any of that good work.

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