GOV. Ted Strickland did not hesitate when asked what characteristic he most wants to see in Ohio's next attorney general. "Maturity," he said emphatically.
And, indeed, after the Animal House behavior of former Attorney General Marc Dann and some of his aides, maturity is exactly what is needed if confidence in the office of the state's top lawyer is to be quickly restored.
By his own admission, Mr. Dann neither expected to win the 2006 election that swept him and other Democrats into statewide office, nor was he personally equipped for responsibility of that magnitude. That doesn't excuse him, and neither does his resignation and acceptance of responsibility for what he characterized as not having enough "administrative backbone." The investigation under way into his office should continue and, as Governor Strickland said, "let the chips fall where they may."
The bad actions of Mr. Dann and his cronies tarnished the good being done by the attorney general's 1,400 employees on issues such as illegal gambling, voting rights, illegal severance payments to state employees, and environmental protection.
Also tarnished, but to a lesser extent, was the reputation of Ohio's Democratic Party. Mr. Dann's lax management of an important state office, as well as his extramarital affair with a subordinate, have given Republicans a political issue they have not earned and do not deserve.
Already, state GOP officials are yammering about a Democratic "culture of corruption" and have promised to paint every Democratic office-seeker with the Dann brush prior to the Nov. 4 general election, when voters will choose a successor for the remainder of Mr. Dann's term.
While we know of no group better able to recognize corruption than the party of Coingate, which ran Ohio into an ethics wasteland for most of two decades, Mr. Dann's personal failings are just that - personal - and Democrats should get credit for leading the charge to hold him accountable and push him out of office.
Mr. Dann's resignation does not mean that Ohio voters were wrong when they overwhelmingly chose Democrats to lead the state in 2006. And neither does his departure mean that Betty Montgomery would have been a better attorney general. We are pleased to see that she's not interested in seeking the office she was deservedly denied 18 months ago.
Governor Strickland now has the task of deciding whether to name a new attorney general to serve until the special election on Nov. 4 or allowing Dann aide Tom Winters to continue running the office until that time.
Undoubtedly, political considerations will be important as the governor attempts to minimize the damage to all Democratic candidates, including whoever runs to replace Mr. Dann.
Choosing a replacement of solid character, consummate legal ability, and, above all, mature judgment, should be the governor's highest priority.
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