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METRO WEEKLY: What do you think should be the nature of the attorney general’s relationship with both the Council and the mayor? As Democrats, can voters trust that you will be able to remain independent of the mayor, the Council, and particularly the D.C. Democratic Party when it comes to aggressive oversight and enforcing D.C.’s laws?
Edward “Smitty” Smith (D): As attorney general, my primary responsibility would be to uphold the law and protect the public interest. I would work closely with the mayor and the D.C. Council — however, I would refuse to defend any action by either office that is contrary to the public interest. The attorney general, mayor, and Council all share an obligation to serve the public interest and, in doing so, should work together in a positive manner to advance the best interests of the District’s citizens.
When Washingtonians voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending the Charter to make the attorney general an elected rather than an appointed position, it was to empower the attorney general to disagree with the mayor or City Council when his or her independent legal analysis demands. Therefore, while I would not refuse to defend an action of the mayor or Council because of a simple disagreement on policy, it would be my duty to refuse to defend an action, and even affirmatively act to stop such action, if it is necessary to uphold the laws of the District and protect the public interest.
Finally, while I am a Democrat, partisan politics have no place in the attorney general’s office. The attorney general cannot be beholden to political ties and must interpret and enforce the law without consideration of political party or platform.
MW: Realizing that bias enhancements are more difficult to “prove” in a court of law, what can the attorney general do to ensure that crimes motivated by anti-LGBT bias are properly prosecuted, beyond merely providing lip service to the LGBT community?
Smith: While bias enhancements are difficult to “prove,” ensuring that police officers and prosecuting attorneys have the training necessary to properly identify the indicia of a hate crime can alleviate much of that difficulty. Violence targeting LGBT people will not be tolerated during my tenure. As attorney general, I will use the full power of my office to prosecute the perpetrators of such violence and will coordinate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute those instances that fall under its jurisdiction. I will strongly enforce the District’s law against hate crimes, the Bias-Related Crime Act of 1989, that provides for increased penalties whenever a crime is motivated by bias or hate, including crimes where sexual orientation may have been a motivator. Furthermore, I will work with MPD to ensure that hate crimes are appropriately categorized as such, so that they may be prosecuted accordingly and we can thus collect accurate data on their prevalence. We need credible and measurable data to determine the best course for our city, and this includes statistics on all bias crimes.
Every resident in the District should be able to live in a peaceful and safe environment and access city services, untrammeled by the burdens of prejudice and violence, regardless of sexual orientation. As attorney general, I will fight every day to provide the safety that our LGBT Washingtonians deserve.
MW: What specifically, under the restrictions put forth in the Home Rule Act and the U.S. Constitution, can an attorney general do to push statehood or budget autonomy? Or is this just a “talking point” for candidates, designed to get votes?
Smith: The next attorney general can do a great deal to advance the issue of D.C. statehood and budget autonomy. There are compelling legal arguments, based upon the legislative history of the Home Rule Act, that the generally broad powers granted to the District to amend its charter under the Act were never intended to preclude the District from amending the budget provisions. Fighting for budget autonomy will be a top priority when I enter office.
D.C. autonomy and voting rights are very personal to me and, through my work with DC Vote and serving on the board of the We the People Project, I have a proven record of fighting for these issues. As attorney general, I will be a vocal champion for the equal representation of Washingtonians and the right of our citizens to exercise unimpeded control over their own government and the use of their own tax dollars.
Furthermore, I will assemble a special task force within the Office of the Attorney General charged with examining and pursuing legal grounds for the advancement of D.C. voting rights and defending our autonomy. I will also work with D.C.’s congressional delegation and voting rights advocates to advance incremental legislative victories for obtaining local budget control, eliminating congressional review and interference with our laws, and securing our place as the 51st state. I will strongly support any legislation, ballot initiatives, or referenda that attempt to progressively amend the Home Rule charter to give D.C. more autonomy.
MW: Avoiding talking points and campaign rhetoric, name three SEPARATE legal issues that you would advocate and push for as the city’s “top cop,” and why they’re important to improving the lives of District residents.
Smith: I will work to reform D.C.’s juvenile justice system. These reforms would center on collaborating with other key institutions with youth-serving functions (including other executive agencies, the courts, public schools, and community organizations) to implement practices and programs to identify at-risk-youth as early as possible, provide them with any necessary resources, treatment, or counseling to reduce the likelihood of harmful or criminal behavior, and, where appropriate in the event of a criminal offense, provide effective diversion options to avoid their entry into the juvenile justice system. This is important to District residents because reducing the rates of recidivism among our youth will have a profound and long lasting effect in our communities.
I will also vigorously enforce our existing consumer protection laws and advocate for the passage of new laws that will provide greater protection for our citizens. I will focus on protections for our most vulnerable citizens, including laws concerning online privacy, predatory lending practices, abusive debt collection practices, consumer credit, and homeowner protections (particularly for our senior citizens). The attorney general is the sole entity entrusted to pursue consumer protection matters and it is key to elect a person who will advocate for everyone.
As attorney general, I will continue to advocate for full representation and statehood and use the powers of my office to fight for greater autonomy, particularly with respect to control over our own budget and gun laws. This is an issue that affects all residents because we deserve the right to exercise unimpeded control over our own government and use of our tax dollars.
MW: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
Smith: I am fully committed to serving the needs of, and advocating on behalf of all Washingtonians, including members of the LGBT community. I believe that members of the LGBT community should be able to live in a safe and supportive District and have equal access to the benefits, programs, employment, and housing available to heterosexual Washingtonians. As attorney general I will not stand for any discrimination that occurs on the basis of sexual orientation. I will fight to make sure that all provisions of DC’s Human Rights Act are enforced, including the provision requiring that single-stall public restrooms be gender neutral. I am proud to have received the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Club, an organization dedicated to the needs of LGBT citizens in the District of Columbia.
For more information on Edward Smith’s campaign, visit smittyforag.com.
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