We're Building A Better Tri-State Together
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What does a (state-level) attorney general do?

Former Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (left) and recently sworn-in AG Russel Coleman.
File Photo, Commonwealth of Kentucky
Former Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (left) and recently sworn-in AG Russel Coleman. The position of AG has become more political over the past 15 years according to a Western Kentucky University political science professor.

Kentucky AG Russel Coleman has spent one month in office so far, with opiate money secured, lawsuits against Biden under his belt

Host intro for audio:
New Kentucky Attorney General Russel Coleman … has been in office a little more than one month. WNIN’s Tim Jagielo spoke with a Western Kentucky University Political Science professor about the changing role of the state-level attorney general.

New Kentucky Attorney General Russel Coleman has been in office since January first. Former AG Daniel Cameron decided to run for Governor instead of remaining in office.

Jeff Budziak is Western Kentucky University professor of political science. He said AGs play an important role in seeing that the laws of the state are executed. “And what that does is that that gives them a lot of influence about the kind of the way enforcement looks in a state.”

He said while one might expect all the laws to be enforced equally, this usually isn’t the case. He said decisions have to be made about priorities, what the government will pursue and not pursue.

On Monday Coleman announced the support of the passage of a child Counter Exploitation Bill by the Kentucky House of Representatives. “Today, courageous leaders in the Kentucky House took a unanimous step toward protecting our children from exploitation,” he said via news release. The idea is to protect children by criminalizing the creation of artificial-intelligence-based sexual images of children, for example.

But Coleman also seems to have taken up the Republican partisan mantle of prior AG Daniel Cameron — something he promised in his campaign.

He's also a former President Trump federal judge appointee for Western Kentucky.

Coleman is purportedly fighting the Biden administration, wielding lawsuits against things like climate mandates and gun control. Budziak said the position of the AG is increasingly partisan and high profile.

“And that's really where I think the position has changed over the last 15 to 20 years. We've really seen a growth in attorneys general attacking the federal government when the executive branch of the federal government is controlled by a party that is unpopular in the state they're representing,” Budziak said. “So obviously the Biden administration is not popular in Kentucky.”

Budziak said whether this partisan focus is bad for constituents depends on the lawsuit.

For example, long-shot lawsuits against the federal government can be wasteful. This means an AG’s office is fighting one legal battle instead of another.

He said this isn’t just the “red states” under Republican leadership. “Under the Trump administration, many lawsuits that were brought against the Trump administration regarding immigration or like Remain in Mexico policies,” he said. “Or you may remember that the travel ban litigation. Those were largely if not brought directly but funded, really driven by blue state attorneys general.”

But sometimes a seemingly political lawsuit from an AG can be in the interests of residents — such as both AGs fighting Biden on coal.

“I think what Daniel Cameron would say is that there were real consequences for Kentucky, if the Biden administration was successful in implementing these rules about coal power plants, or any other things that might impact Kentucky."

He said people may not be thrilled with the level of partisan rancor, as it relates to these kinds of things, but "at the end of the day, these kinds of lawsuits make a meaningful difference in the lives of his constituents.”

Of course not all of Coleman’s recent announcements are overtly partisan. He announced securing funding for another opioid settlement — also a big focus of Cameron. He’s also calling out the Biden administration on Fentanyl.

His office also secured final sentences in a Monroe County Election Integrity Case.

Budziak said Cameron’s gubernatorial campaign may have influenced how he wielded his office at times. Coleman so far doesn’t have his sights on the Governor’s mansion and Budziak hopes his tenure isn’t overtly partisan.

“I could be wildly wrong, and he might really have eyes on running for governor in, you know, in, you know, when the Bashir term is over, and that he'll engage in some of the same practices that Daniel Cameron did.”

Regarding what attorneys general cannot do — Budziak says AGs are not police officers who make arrests, and they’re also not required to be practicing lawyers depending on the state.

Support independent journalism today. You rely on WNIN to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Give to grow our local reporting todayDonate now