Before the Clark County Commission voted to appoint Steve Wolfson as district attorney Tuesday, several angry constituents protested that the county was engaged in a “dog and pony show.”
If so, they were obviously trying for the Westminster Dog and Pony Show: After seven people applied for the job, a screening panel narrowed the field to three finalists after hours of meetings. Those candidates met with newspaper editorial boards for interviews, and endured a four-and-a-half hour grueling interview before the entire commission last week. And the public got to weigh in frequently during the process.
The problem? The political choice — Wolfson — got the job instead of the person whom many in the community decided to back, attorney John Hunt.
Oddly, there seemed to be nobody on the commission who was considering giving the job to Drew Christensen, who was arguably the most qualified candidate, with experience in the district attorney’s office, public defender’s office and skills at navigating the maze of Clark County government. Although Christensen earned praise from several of the commissioners, it doesn’t appear his standout performance during the marathon interview persuaded any of them to vote for him. More’s the pity.
In the end, the choice came down to Hunt and Wolfson. And in that, there was little choice: Wolfson has experience as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, while Hunt lacks prosecutorial experience almost entirely. And his management ability was called into question after the disastrous 2008 Clark County Democratic Party convention, where organizers failed to anticipate huge crowds, forcing the even to adjourn to another day. (Hunt was chairman of the county party at the time.)
But that didn’t dissuade members of the public, or a series of high-profile attorneys, labor groups and others who came to the commission chambers to publicly give Hunt their support. They cited his passion, his experience in the community and his commitment to diversity in the office. And as pundits and insiders predicted a Wolfson appointment, they grew agitated, accusing the commissioners of having made up their minds before the meeting even began.
Each commissioner, of course, denied the charge. Tom Collins said he was going to bring a deck of cards and a coin to choose. Larry Brown said the process was fair and open. Chris Giunchigliani said she was still undecided at the meeting. Susan Brager said she felt unsettled in her gut. Steve Sisolak said he’d lost sleep over the decision (and a nasty legal spat with an ex-girlfriend). “I disagree with some of the folks said this is a dog and pony show and the fix was in,” he said flatly. Lawrence Weekly said “I’m stuck.” And Mary Beth Scow said she felt “a lot of weight” about the decision.
The final proof the vote wasn’t orchestrated — or at least not well orchestrated — came shortly after Weekly said he hoped that whomever got the job could get it with a unanimous, 7-0 vote. After Scow made a motion for Wolfson, Collins — a Hunt supporter — seemed reluctant to cast his vote, saying he agreed with Weekly’s call for unanimity.
When all votes were cast, it was 6-1 for Wolfson, with Weekly ironically dissenting. He said, “I went with what I felt my constituents wanted.” And they wanted Hunt. Collins said he’d disappointed a lot of friends and constituents by his vote, which he’d clearly preferred to cast for Hunt, but which he cast instead for what he obviously assumed was going to be a consensus nominee.
Wolfson was the political choice, to be sure. But even critics of the process can’t argue he was a bad choice.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.