By Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma City attorney Ryan Leonard has been running for state attorney general for about a year, now. He has grown comfortable, and fervent, when he focuses on issues surrounding the office.
In an interview today (Tuesday, May 4) with CapitolBeatOK, Leonard said he wanted the job “so that I can fight for the people of Oklahoma and for what’s right.” He points to his experience as a Canadian County prosecutor and as an aide to Don Nickles, “where I was deeply involved in agriculture, transportation and judicial issues, and was one of the staff involved in writing the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial legislation.”
He continued, “In 1997 I worked on the (federal transportation) bill. My background as an attorney and a prosecutor, my experience working for a U.S. Senator has led me to seek this job and to do the best I can to represent the people of the state.”
Key issues for the attorney general include the methamphetamine crisis. He reflects, “We used to see meth that originated from behind the counter, but now we get more small operations using the so-called ‘shake and bake’ method, and involvement of Mexican-organized gangs in drug distribution. To attack meth, we will need a sophisticated operation. I envision effective use of the multi-country grand jury to break up meth networks.”
Leonard continued, “I believe that public corruption is a continuing problem. We’ve had 107 state and local officials engaged in wrongdoing in connection with their jobs. Those kinds of crimes, violations of the public trust, must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. As attorney general that will be a priority, to prosecute such wrongdoing vigorously.
“Growth and jobs should be a priority of the state, to attract new business and keep it. The attorney general can plan an important role in job creation, advising and encouraging that process.
“Finally, we have been witnessing a massive federalization of many aspects of law and life, the most massive in the history of our country. This recent trend makes the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson pale in comparison.”
Leonard has been a passionate critic of the new health care bill, which he tags “unconstitutional. Never before has Congress mandated anything like this, a good or service that everyone must purchase like this health care. This is simply unprecedented in my opinion.”
While some attorneys dismiss challenges to the new law as frivolous, Leonard says defense of the law requires a “strained beyond credibility” reading of the Commerce Clause, and further would make the 10th amendment “a nullity.” His critique of the bill has also focused on enumerated powers (Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.”
Leonard shares the concerns of many other conservatives about expansive federal powers: “Now we have the Environmental Protection Agency trying to regularly carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Virginia and Texas have challenged this maneuver, and Oklahoma needs to get into that fight as well. The EPA is going after hydraulic fracturing, and that is nothing but a full frontal assault on our domestic energy industry.
“There’s talk about the cost of all this, but I like to point out that the state Attorneys Generals are the last line of defense, the means by which the states can keep balance with the federal power, by pushing back when the federal government oversteps its bounds.”
Leonard says he enjoys “when I am helping people, and helping businesses develop and grow their markets. Growth, that’s what it is about. I find being an attorney very gratifying in and of itself, and the positive contribution I’m able to make is so encouraging.”
It’s hard to press Leonard to find areas of frustration. He says, “I am an optimist, and I tend to work around problems or challenges. My objective is to work through problems, to enforce the laws of the state fairly, reasonably and justly.”
As the state’s top law enforcement officer, he would “vigorously and enthusiastically pursue every challenge I could to the new federal health care bill. I have given a lot of thought to my priorities, and I know we need to redo the way we handle the use of outside counsel. That’s a cost that has gotten too high, it’s been $25 million in the last three years, and that doesn’t include provision for contingency fees. The meth issue will be at the top of my list.
“I will find ways to enhance the office’s involvement in economic development of the state. I am passionate about constructively resolving legal issues when they arise.”
He promised that immediately after inauguration he would look at office staffing, which he considers “absolutely essential. The office has a tremendous role to play in development of the law and of the state. There are 82 lawyers there, and a budget of $29 million.
“The other thing is I can assure you that if somehow Oklahoma has not signed onto the health care bill before I get into office, we will do so immediately. That law is an unprecedented act of intrusion, and I believe the Supreme Court will in the end decide the issue. I’d like Oklahoma to be part of the solution, to join those 14 other AGs already involved, and the others involved in other ways.”
Leonard is “on the road a lot. This week I’ll travel about 1,500 miles. In an average week we cover 1000 miles. Through the last quarter we’d raised $609,000 for the campaign, and we haven’t stopped. I’ll show up and I’ll fight for what’s reasonable and fair for Oklahoma.”
Leonard and his wife Carrie live in Oklahoma City with their three children. Former state Sen. Scott Pruitt is also seeking the Republican nomination for the job.
Oklahoma City attorney Jim Priest, a Democrat, is also a candidate.