Laslo Boyd: Brian Frosh -- Full Speed Ahead

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When I asked Attorney General Brian Frosh to review the major initiatives that he has been working on since taking office at the start of 2015, he quickly gave me more than a column full of activities.  For anyone who watched his career in the Maryland General Assembly, it’s no surprise that Frosh is fully engaged in his new job and is not flinching in taking on issues that he sees as important regardless of the opposition.

A key to Frosh’s energy and enthusiasm is, as he told me, that he loves the job.  And, despite all sorts of fundamental differences between this role and his previous one, he also loved being a state legislator.  In an era when many public officials shy away from being labeled as progressive or liberal, Frosh clearly believes that government can be a force for good.  He has always had a constant set of values regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

We talked on the day after the news of Volkswagen cheating on emissions tests broke.  Frosh did not hesitate to announce that his office would be joining other states in investigating VW for potential consumer fraud.  He also expressed his concern about the impact on the environment of VW’s actions, an issue on which Frosh has been a champion since he first was elected to public office.

The topics that the Attorney General highlighted in our conversation mirror the issues that were on his radar as a legislator.   Now, instead of having to round up five other votes in his committee or 23 on the Senate floor, Frosh is the ultimate decision maker.  Rather than writing legislation, he is enforcing laws, pursuing violators, and representing state agencies.  And, as in his previous life, he has the opportunity to be an advocate for causes that he supports.

In a year in which racial tensions between the police and minority communities have been much in the news, Frosh has issued racial profiling guidance for local law enforcement departments.  Much to his surprise, Maryland is the first state to take that action.  At the press conference announcing the initiative, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett talked about his own experience as a target of racially profiling, an account that moved the issue from the abstract to the very real.

Frosh’s office has also joined an effort initiated by the Attorney General of New York to create a Heroin Trafficking Task Force.  The Task Force is focused on the northeast corridor.  It is a good example of the need for collaborative efforts among states.  Governor Larry Hogan has talked about heroin use as an epidemic in Maryland.  While a range of responses will be required if the problem is to be successfully addressed, more aggressive law enforcement is clearly a necessary step.

Another example that Frosh cited was the passage this General Assembly session of the False Claims Act, a measure he had tried without success to get adopted while a member of the State Senate.  He calls this law a powerful tool in enabling government to go after companies that knowingly present fraudulent or false claims for payment to Maryland government agencies.

An issue that Frosh steered through the State Senate and got him considerable attention was updating and strengthening Maryland’s gun law.  As Attorney General, he now finds himself defending that law against challenges to the bans on assault weapons and on high capacity magazines.  Critics call it the most restrictive gun law in the country, an assertion that Frosh is delighted to hear. 

Too many elected officials in this country have been intimidated by the NRA and other gun advocates.  Frosh is definitely not in that category.  If progress is ever going to be made against the insanity of gun violence in this country, it will be because people like Brian Frosh stand up to the craziness. 

In addition to these broad issues, the Attorney General’s Office has been going after illegitimate activities by individual businesses of behalf of consumers.  Examples include a multi-state effort to shut down a cancer fundraising scam, a legal action against Chase Bank’s improper debt collection scheme—which terminated down 8000 illegal claims against Marylanders—and overbilling by Sprint and Verizon on mobile phone charges.

When he talked about the future, the agenda was no less full.  Consumer protection and defense of the environment have always been causes important to Frosh so it is no surprise to see his office actively pursuing legal actions in both of those areas.  Similarly, prosecuting criminals and making sure that all citizens are treated fairly by the Criminal Justice system—which may mean not prosecuting in some cases—are core parts of the office’s responsibilities as Frosh sees it.

The Attorney General’s Office is frequently asked to give formal opinions.  For Frosh, that means giving straight answers even if he personally doesn’t agree with them.    It’s clear that his work has a significant impact on many areas of life in Maryland, including politics, but Frosh doesn’t see the job as driven by politics in the way that being a state legislator was.

Last year, in this column, I argued that Brian Frosh was far and away the most qualified candidate running for the position of Attorney General. I thought his experience, demonstrated leadership and political courage made him the clear choice for the job.  His first nine months as Attorney General have confirmed what a good decision the voters of Maryland made in elevating him to this new position.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.