Like everyone else in Kansas government, Attorney General Steve Six is trying to get by with fewer state dollars. But Six also must turn that bad situation into the basis for a victory at the polls next November, when he presumably will be running for the post he was handed in 2008 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
"I like the job and I'd like to continue doing it," Six said Wednesday in a meeting with The Eagle editorial board — the closest he came to talking about the sizable challenge he faces next year from Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.
Instead, Six was upbeat about the progress he's made in the Attorney General's Office; candid about the risks that budget cuts pose to Kansas' justice system; and unflinching in his defense of the state's 15-year-old death penalty law, which some in the state want to repeal for its comparatively high costs and lack of executions so far.
"I think cost shouldn't be the issue," Six said, terming the death penalty a "just punishment" that's been appropriately applied in Kansas and suggesting the law's toughest legal tests are behind it.
Six is especially proud of the retooling of the office's Consumer Protection Division, and how the office's redoubled efforts in fiscal 2009 recovered $8 million for scammed Kansans (eight times more than in 2006) and recovered $17.6 million from Medicaid fraud and abuse.
He also became the state's first attorney general in three decades to personally prosecute a criminal case, winning the conviction of Kenneth Wilson in an Osborne County homicide in a year in which his office also helped convict killer Justin Thurber in Cowley County and two child rapists in Chautauqua County.
Kansans should share Six's concerns about the impact of the budget crisis on Kansas courts and corrections. In Butler County, for example, it's proving difficult to schedule the capital murder trial of Israel Mireles around possible state-mandated furloughs of courthouse employees.
Funding-related postponements could end up costing the state more money and testing defendants' constitutional right to a speedy trial, Six said. "That could be a new legal area," he added.
He also has concerns about correctional cost-saving measures that could end up releasing prisoners early and cutting programs to help them re-enter society. "I think it's going to increase recidivism," Six said.
Six said his office is using educational programs to fight the growing problem of teens who "sext" and e-mail nude photos to one another, calling the trend "something parents should be terrified about."
For all his accomplishments and full agenda, the low-key Six remains most remarkable for lacking the drama of his predecessors, Republican Phill Kline and Democrat Paul Morrison. Six doesn't yet seem like a natural politician, but his solid work stabilizing and depoliticizing the Attorney General's Office should make him a strong candidate in 2010.