PORTLAND, Ore. – When Oregonians turn in their ballots this May they will elect a new top law enforcement official – the state attorney general.
As we approach the election, a debate is raging at the highest levels over the candidate’s stances on Measure 11, which imposes mandatory sentences for certain crimes.
One camp thinks the voter-approved law costs too much, while the other side thinks keeping violent criminals locked for long periods of time is the best way to keep our communities safe.
Candidate Ellen Rosenblum has found herself at the center of the debate as people question her position on the issue.
Amateur video shows Rosenblum speaking last month to the Multnomah County Prosecuting Attorney’s Association. She was asked whether she would support attempts to undo Measure 11.
“I’m not leaning at all towards severely weakening Measure 11,” she said.
Rosenblum is a long-time judge who served on the state appeals court. She talked about how Measure 11 took power away from judges to use discretion in sentencing violent criminals.
“You never heard me saying this was a terrible thing, we’ve had all our discretion taken away from us. That’s just not how I ever felt about it,” she said in the video.
But two days later, Rosenblum addressed Democrats in Washington County. There is an audio recording of that speech.
“I liked it a lot better pre-Measure 11 and the reason was it gave judges discretion to look at who a person was,” she said on the recording.
“I sometimes wondered why I was even sentencing the defendant in a case because the sentence was already kind of a done deal and it took the discretion away from judges,” she added.
We asked Rosenblum for an interview, but she only agreed to send us a prepared statement:
"As a trial court judge, I have imposed Measure 11 sentences, and I have a history of affirming Measure 11 convictions as an appellate court judge. As Attorney General, I will protect Oregonians by holding criminals accountable and making sure violent and sexual offenders are where they belong – behind bars.
"I want to clarify that my position on Measure 11 has not changed. It is critical that we take a tough stance on crime, but I am open to examining new ways of doing so that ensure that our scarce government resources are being used wisely."
Oregon currently has 14,000 inmates with another 2,000 expected in the coming years.
Some people have argued that Oregon should put more money into crime prevention and rehabilitation efforts and give judges back the discretion they once had in sentencing.
In her remarks in Washington County, Rosenblum echoes those sentiments.
“The time has come to take a serious look at what we need to do to make more sense of the limited resources that we have and to treat people fairly and humanely,” she said.
The Multnomah County Prosecuting Attorney's Association has endorsed Rosenblum’s opponent: former U.S. attorney Dwight Holton, citing their concern about her underlying philosophy.
However, Rosenblum has many endorsement of her own, including former governor Barbara Roberts and former attorneys general Dave Frohnmayer and Hardy Meyers.
Governor John Kitzhaber has put together a panel to study Measure 11, but some people were angry that panel didn’t include any prosecutors.
A new panel, which includes law enforcement, will take up the matter once again.
Rosenblum said she wants to see what recommendations they come up with.
Ellen Rosenblum and Dwight Holton speaking about Measure 11