The endorsement for the District Attorney is an easy choice. But it is not that one candidate is dramatically more qualified than the other. It is an easy choice, because the candidates are so differently qualified for the office. In fact, whom you chose is as much a personality and political test for yourself, as it is a testimony about each candidate's qualifications for the office. Which is to say: These candidates could not be much more different. In terms of personality, policy and philosophical approach to the office, incumbent Patrick Flaherty and challenger John Hummel are night and day.
Ultimately, the Source endorses Hummel for the very important office of DA. That said, we also recognize Flaherty's strong qualifications as a prosecutor, and have some concerns about Hummel's inexperience, and hope that he can step forward from the role as a team player into the position as a team leader.
The most defined difference between the two candidates is what each candidate believes is the function of the DA position.
Unabashedly, Flaherty believes the role is to prosecute the most severe crimes—and in this regard he has done a solid job. While slightly wonky, it is important to recognize one vital change he has brought to the DA's office: He has increased the level of evidence and lowered the level of doubt necessary for a Grand Jury to issue an indictment to an accused criminal offender.
"It's important for justice, but it's important for efficiency, too," said Flaherty, explaining that it helps create a more precise filter for the cases worthy of prosecution.
This is perhaps his greatest achievement in office and probably the greatest indication that while he is tough on crime, he is also reasonable.
Hummel has a completely different belief about how he would operate the office.
"If you want to be a DA who just sits back and waits for crimes to occur and let the police present you with their investigation, you can be a DA who doesn't talk to the community and just sits in your bunker and prosecutes," explained Hummel during his endorsement interview. "But if you want to be involved in crime prevention, you have to be out in the community, because a DA can't prevent crime. You know who can prevent crime? Alcohol counselors, mental health counselors, the law enforcement, neighborhood associations, nonprofit groups, business associations—all of us working together, we can help these programs, but you need to be out in the community."
In this regard, the Source sides with Hummel, and agrees that the DA serves more as the general manager than the quarterback on the field, more as the general than the foot soldier. It is an approach common in bigger cities like Portland and San Francisco, where the DA coordinates as many interested parties as possible so as to better support the in-courtroom efforts of his team of attorneys.
The two candidates would be hard pressed to be any more different in terms of their approach to crime fighting. Flaherty has his sights set on the most heinous crimes, while Hummel talks a lot about rehabilitation opportunities. This is a central debate in law enforcement—whether to punish or to prevent, and neither approach is definitively proven more successful.
"The community has decided that this is the behavior we're most concerned with preventing across the whole spectrum," stated Flaherty in his endorsement interview, agreeing that he focuses his office's attention on the most severe crimes—murder, rape, kidnapping.
And, indeed, Flaherty is right to be proud of his record as a prosecutor.
Meanwhile, one of the centerpieces to Hummel's campaign is that he helped establish the first drug court in Central Oregon. Drug courts are specialty courts that try to provide some understanding for criminal offenders by offering them opportunities to clean themselves up, instead of strict jail time. Addressing such root causes for crimes is an important and humane approach to finding sustainable solutions to criminal behavior. Yet, while admirable, the suggestion to recalibrate the DA's office toward this approach raises two important questions—neither which Hummel has adequately answered yet: First, working with offenders to address their drug or mental issues can be a time consuming exercise. How will this affect the efficiency of Deschutes County criminal courts? And, second, how will Hummel find adequate funding for these specialty courts and social services?
Flaherty's greatest qualification for the position is that he is a good prosecutor. Even his opponent concedes, going so far as to compliment his courtroom and trial skills during our endorsement interview, and stating that he would even consider keeping him as part of the prosecutorial team.
However, the courtroom is an adversarial pursuit, and skills necessary to win a case are not necessarily the same to be a team leader or a collaborator.
During his tenure, Flaherty has been at loggerheads with The Bulletin, and has not made friends with media outlets. Yet, he has received endorsements from law enforcement he works with. There clearly seems like a line between with us or against us.
During our endorsement process, we truly tried to present Flaherty with an open door, but experienced friction from him and witnessed a brusk personality. After nearly three weeks trying to arrange an endorsement interview, a time was finally set for a 1 pm interview. Even then, Flaherty did not arrive until more than 30 minutes late, and came into our offices red-faced and huffing. "I don't want to waste your time, and I don't want to waste my time," he started the interview, and accused our paper of a lack of objectivity.
Our editor Phil Busse responded: "Well, this is not starting out well."
It was an uneasy interaction, and we invited him back for a mulligan the following week. At the time, within the first minutes, he snapped at our photographer and ordered him to stop taking photographs.
Flaherty is steadfast that his office is strong on crime—and, certainly, the aggressive and combative style are important traits for someone who has to face some of the worst monsters in the county, yet it does not serve well to make friends in the media or necessarily as a boss.
These personality traits are an important consideration because ultimately they play into the role of the DA as the team leader for an office of a dozen-plus prosecuting attorneys, and a collaborator with the county's sheriff and police departments.
In that regard, Hummel has touted his time as the project manager for the Carter Center, working to set up a justice system in Liberia, and he has served as a city councilmember. Those are relevant considerations, especially when coupled with Hummel's easygoing and approachable style. We look forward to him stepping into the position as a team leader and bringing a much-needed team spirit and crime-solving attitude to the office.