AG Kroger heads back into spotlight with Adams report

AG Kroger heads back into spotlight with Adams report
File photo of John Kroger

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Any day now, Oregon Attorney General John Kroger will announce results of his investigation into whether Portland Mayor Sam Adams broke the law in his sexual relationship with a teenager.

The much-anticipated report will put Kroger in the spotlight — a place that has become increasingly familiar to the former law professor, federal prosecutor and U.S. Marine who was sworn in as Oregon's top lawyer five months ago.

In that time, Kroger has made it clear he's intent on fulfilling his campaign promise to be an activist attorney general on behalf of consumer and environmental causes. He hasn't been shy about letting the world know about his efforts.

Stylistically, Kroger is worlds apart from his predecessor, Hardy Myers, a three-term attorney general who earned a reputation as a capable but low-key officeholder.

"We've been successful in setting a new tone for the state Department of Justice, which is a little more nimble, a little faster and a little more aggressive," the 43-year-old Kroger said in an interview.

One example of "faster and more aggressive" is Kroger's public relations operation, which has churned out news releases by the dozens. They've dealt with everything from Kroger warning about identity thieves using the swine flu outbreak to scam consumers to Kroger praising a state court for upholding a contempt ruling against anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore.

Kroger has filed several big lawsuits, including one seeking $36 million in damages from the investment firm OppenheimerFunds Inc. over steep losses in the Oregon College Savings Plan.

He's also leading the state's appeal of a federal agency's decision to approve a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Columbia River near Astoria. In addition to the legal issues at hand, Kroger offered his personal view that it's a mistake for the state to rely on imported natural gas as it tries to become more energy independent.

The Adams case wound up in his office after local officers asked him to step in.

Portland became the largest city in the United States ever to elect an openly gay mayor, but no sooner had Adams taken office than he was caught in a campaign lie — that he hadn't had sex with the teen, Beau Breedlove. Now Kroger's office is determining whether Adams broke any laws in a relationship that Adams says involved sex only after Breedlove turned 18.

As Kroger has raised the visibility of his office, he's spurred speculation he has his eyes on higher office.

"He is arguably the most dynamic state elected official in Oregon," says Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis. "He's going to be a political force to be reckoned with."

Kroger dismisses talk about running for governor in 2010 — he won't run even if the Democratic field remains wide open, he said. But he doesn't rule out a bid for higher office at some point.

Political analyst Jim Moore said that after only five months in office, Kroger has "definitely become a player" in Oregon politics.

"The amount of publicity his office is getting, and the fact that he is a new face, are both big plusses for him," said Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

The Republican leader in the Oregon Senate, Ted Ferrioli , says Oregon will benefit if Kroger proves a strong prosecutor, but he finds talk about "environmental criminals" worrisome because it suggests Kroger may be overzealous in small cases.

Ferrioli, however, said he hasn't yet seen instances of that. "I don't know where Kroger is yet," he said "All I've heard is the rhetoric."

He was critical of Kroger's activism on LNG. "You have to ask yourself if the attorney general is the chief policy maker on natural resource issues in Oregon," Ferrioli said. "I think he is not."

Republican Kevin Mannix, twice an attorney general candidate, says he's so far been impressed but says Kroger needs to get "more engaged in the legislative process."

"I give him good grades for attitude and diligence," Mannix said by e-mail. "I have no problem with the publicity angle. He can do a better job if he is engaging the public, and publicity helps."

Kroger, who took on the Mob and Enron during his career as a federal prosecutor, has won legislative approval of a law to allow the attorney general to crack down on unscrupulous debt collectors. Gov. Ted Kulongoski recently signed it.

Despite tough budget times, Kroger is hoping to persuade lawmakers to set aside $500,000 to hire two prosecutors, an investigator and a support staff to focus on environmental polluters.

Along similar lines, Kroger wants to create a civil rights protection unit in his office. But another Democrat, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, already enforces state civil rights laws.

Kroger says he isn't trying to usurp Avakian. Still, Kroger's move strikes some in the Legislature as the action of a newcomer to state government who has unnecessarily stepped on another officeholder's turf.

Kroger has won allies among district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs, partly because he's taken the lead in helping them apply for federal stimulus dollars.

"He's the first attorney general in decades to have extensive criminal justice experience," said Kevin Neely, who served as Hardy Myers' chief spokesman from 2000 to 2008.

Previous attorneys general, including Myers, Ted Kulongoski and Dave Frohnmayer, were civil attorneys who served in the Legislature, Neely notes.

Kroger, for his part, said there will be no letup in his efforts to publicize his office and the issues he thinks are important to Oregonians.

"I want people to understand what I am trying to do as attorney general. We need to get people more involved and more interested and less cynical about government," Kroger said.