Utah Attorney General Jan Graham was the first Beehive State woman elected to statewide office when she assumed her present duties in 1992. A Democrat in a GOP-dominated state, Graham challenged Utah congressional Republicans who voted to impeach President Clinton to swear they'd never had an extramarital affair themselves. Recently in Washington, D.C., for a National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) meeting, Graham talked to Stateline.org's Blair S. Walker about issues she and other state attorneys general confront.
Stateline.org: Why did you trek from Utah to the District of Columbia to meet with NAAG?
Graham: I think that this is the one chance we have every year as state AGs to meet with the federal officials. This is our spring meeting and it traditionally is the time when we interface with our federal counterparts at (the Department of) Justice. And also with federal agencies and congressional representatives to talk about issues that we have in common. Or concerns that we have about what the federal government is doing. We're focusing in particular at this session on Internet issues, Internet crimes, privacy issues and so forth. We have a parallel conference going on down the hall on violence against women. That's been a particular priority of mine.
Stateline.org: In addition to information-sharing, it sounds like NAAG's spring meeting presents fantastic lobbying opportunities.
Graham: It really does. I think when we can get the head of the Federal Trade Commission or, good heavens, the attorney general of the United States, to come in here and listen to our collective concerns, then we have a voice together here that we don't have as individuals in the states. So it's a great opportunity.
Stateline.org: What kinds of things have you done in Utah regarding violence against women?
Graham: That is probably my chief priority. The whole issue of violence and abuse in the family has been a huge priority for me. We have workplace programs, and school-based prevention programs. We have children's justice centers, where child victims of abuse are taken to prepare (for) criminal cases. We have innovations in prosecuting child abuse, even abuse on infants, a very difficult crime to prove. The science is changing and the world of technology is changing our ability to prove (abuse allegations) and convict abusers. It's a whole new world.
Stateline.org: Why such a big emphasis on abuse cases?
Graham: This is an issue that really has touched my heart. This is the one (issue) I kind of wake up in the middle of the night about. I feel like it's a great opportunity and a calling, really, to use the office while I'm there to be a voice for ending family violence.
Stateline.org: Looking around the country, what are some of the main themes or concerns that attorneys general are concentrating on?
Graham: Well, we're finding all kinds of difficulties on the Internet. The selling of cigarettes and alcohol in violation of the law in my state is something I've already prosecuted cases on. Child pornography is a huge problem and a growing problem and a difficult problem to enforce. We have sales of (Internet) products in our state that are regulated and that need to comply with Utah law. So it's a whole new world and we're trying to hang on for dear life.
Stateline.org: What about identity theft -- is that a major problem in Utah?
Graham: It is, it is. It's a huge concern to ordinary citizens. We get many calls about it. It kind of coincides with telemarketing fraud . . . it's a little different brand of it. There's a tremendous concern out there in the population -- they're going to demand that Congress act. And we heard this morning about proposals on the table to protect (citizens) from having privacy invaded or identities stolen.
Stateline.org: Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky, who just spoke, told me that telemarketing fraud has gone down dramatically in the last five or so years.
Graham: It's just a tough enforcement priority for all of us as AGs. Justice has helped us crack down on it, and we've done something about it. And there's been a lot of community education, too, making victims and potential victims more aware of what can happen.
Stateline.org: What about violence in schools?
Graham: We have a huge report that we all contributed to in this organization. The president of our organization just issued a draft here today. We're all doing different kinds of programs in our states, and in fact that report is timed to be released sometime in April.
Stateline.org: If you could send a message to the bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C., what would it be?
Graham: My own person message?
Graham: Well, the message about youth violence is that . . . we learned from all of our studies and all of our work in our own states that the No. 1 cause of violence in schools is violence at home. So a laser focus on violence and abuse within the family and in the home environment goes a long way in solving the problem of violence in school.
Stateline.org: Are you finding adequate funding to do your job in Utah?
Graham: No -- of course not! And state legislatures don't like to fund preventative programs. It's a massive preventative effort that's going to be required to solve the problem of violence in schools, homes and on our streets. It's prevention. It's great to lock `em up, but you've got to get to the problem before it happens, before there are victims, not after.