September 9, 2018

Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Keith H. Wofford, the Republican candidate for state attorney general, stopped in Watertown on Friday as he runs on a platform to make the state friendlier to business and less friendly to corruption.

“We have to have a change in the office,” Mr. Wofford said during an interview at the Times office.

Mr. Wofford is a co-managing partner of white-shoe law firm Ropes & Gray’s New York City office. But he was born in Buffalo, and his father worked at a Chevrolet plant outside the city.

“He was there for 32 years, got up at 4:30 every day,” Mr. Wofford said. “When my dad was there, there was a plant for him to go to.”

Mr. Wofford thinks that the attorney general’s office in New York has participated in driving business like the Chevy plant his father worked at out of the state.

“You have an environment of hostility to business,” he said. “The concrete example is settlement after settlement after settlement, fine after fine after fine.”

The attorney general has to prioritize what the office does, Mr. Wofford said, and has made prosecuting businesses for violations too high of a priority, in his view.

“In a state where elected officials are absconding with public money, that has to be priority one,” he said.
Second is the responsibility for defending the state in lawsuits — something Mr. Wofford said his extensive private sector experience in civil litigation has prepared him for.

“Third priority is deciding which violations of law are significant enough to merit the full power of the state,” he said. At the moment, “the power of the state is sort of a machine gun spraying everywhere.”

Mr. Wofford denies that this sort of selective prosecution of violations on the part of business is a way of circumventing the Legislature.

“You have to exercise this judgment,” he said. “It’s not overruling the Legislature, it’s responding to the Legislature.”
Mr. Wofford thinks his outsider status, 20 years of experience and his disinterest in further political office will set him apart from prior attorneys general. Asked about the high-profile cases the state attorney general has brought against the Trump administration and President Donald J. Trump’s charity, Mr. Wofford said he would only bring cases against the federal government if they were in the interests of the state, rather than for political gain.

“The last attorney general talked about resisting the federal government and it was clear … that was motivated to establish a partisan political position,” he said.

Mr. Wofford declined to speculate on which of the Democrats running for the nomination in next week’s primary he expects to face, but whomever it is, he thinks the contrast will be stark.

“Career politicians on the Democrat side, true outsider on the Republican side,” he said. “On the Democratic side, you have candidates who have not dealt with complicated contracts and sophisticated transactions … on the Republican side you have an experienced manager of a 700-employee law office who has practiced law at the highest level for two decades.”

The office itself, however, Mr. Wofford said, is not political — something that will help him do his job whether he is working with Republicans or Democrats.

“I think it’s actually indifferent whether it’s Republicans or Democrats in power at the state,” he said. “You do what’s in the best interests of the people of the state.”

It is these factors that Mr. Wofford thinks will help him get elected as a Republican when state offices are overwhelmingly held by Democrats.

“This race is not a normal down-ticket race, precisely because two of the three past attorney generals left office because of disqualifying issues,” he said. “We have a third of those three past attorney generals as governor where several, several people associated with the administration have not just been indicted but convicted of federal crimes.”

Because of this, Mr. Wofford thinks people will be looking for an alternative.

“The path to victory is very simple,” he said. “Once voters know there’s an alternative to career politicians … they’ll vote for me.”