A group of Democratic state attorneys general cast themselves on Wednesday as the unsung heroes of their party’s fight against a lawless president intent on eroding civil rights, polluting the environment and — most recently — jeopardizing the health of voters and the sanctity of November’s election.

The AGs, including Maryland’s Brian E. Frosh (D), said if President Trump gets another four years, attacks on every aspect of American life will continue.

Their comments came during an hour-long virtual event, part of this week’s Democratic National Convention, co-hosted by the Democratic Attorneys General Association and the College Democrats of America.

“The fight against the Donald Trump administration has been going on for the past four years,” Frosh said. “And the attorneys general of Democratic states have done an outstanding job. We’ve achieved great success when we have stood up against the Trump administration’s illegal, unconstitutional policies.” 

Just this week the threat of state lawsuits against the United States Postal Service, combined with pressure from members of Congress and a public uproar, led agency officials to reverse policies that critics contended would have hampered vote-by-mail programs this fall.

The attorneys general — from Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Vermont — urged the college students watching the discussion to register to vote, cast ballots, volunteer for former vice president Joe Biden in the presidential election and get their friends to do the same. 

“We’ll keep fighting [Trump], but we need the College Democrats — and everybody else in this country — to get us a new president,” Frosh said. 

One of Frosh’s most high-profile battles, a lawsuit claiming that Trump has used his position to funnel taxpayer dollars to his Washington, D.C., hotel, was never mentioned during the 65-minute session. The “emoluments” fight, in which he is partnered with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D), continues to work its way through the courts. 

Frosh’s battles with Trump have generated friction with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

In 2017, the General Assembly gave Frosh the power to sue the White House without Hogan’s approval. The move was described as the first expansion of Maryland AG’s power since 1864. 

The next year, Hogan cut five positions from Frosh’s staff, saying he was looking for savings and “efficiencies” in the budget. 

The governor’s then-spokesman, Douglass V. Mayer, said the attorney general misled the public when he said he could sue Trump without using state resources. “It’s always about politics with the attorney general, and that’s a shame,” Mayer told the Baltimore Sun. 

Wednesday’s panel featured several attorneys general who have become — if not household names — certainly high-profile figures for the fights they have engaged in.

New York AG Letitia A. “Tish” James recently filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association, accusing the group’s top officials of using charitable donations to fund lavish lifestyles. She said the Trump years have been marked by “cruelty” and “chaos.”

Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro took on the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church much more successfully than other states — including Maryland. He is currently leading efforts to go after what he called “wide-spread, brazen, rampant, illegal price-fixing” among generic drug manufacturers that collectively control 90% of the market. 

Despite the high-profile nature of many of their battles, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey said the public doesn’t fully appreciate their efforts, nor does her own party. “I don’t think that the Democratic Party has paid enough attention to state attorney generals. It’s a powerful group, OK?”

While state attorney general has always been a powerful job — and often, a formidable political stepping stone — the position became elevated during the Obama administration, when Republican attorneys general filed high-profile lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act and climate rules, among other initiatives.

At Wednesday’s forum, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (D) noted with pride that Kamala D. Harris, the party’s vice presidential nominee, was the AG in California before becoming a senator.

“Being an AG puts you in the middle of every major battle, every major fight of consequence — choice, DACA, the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Not all of Frosh’s battles have been against Trump.

He told students his office has had a long list of wins, many of them having nothing to do with the president:

  • He said his office “has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for our state from Wall Street banks, payday lenders, tobacco companies, [and] polluters”
  • He said he has taken down “some of the most dangerous people in our state — human traffickers, gun runners, drug traffickers, payday lenders, etc.” 
  • Frosh said Maryland was the first state in the nation to issue guidelines prohibiting racial profiling by police 
  • He said his office fought money bail, a policy he said “keeps poor people locked up before they’ve been convicted”
  • Frosh said his investigators have forced unscrupulous nursing homes and “unlicensed, abusive” assisted living facilities to close

An environmental leader when he was in the state legislature, Frosh has fought to protect the Chesapeake Bay as well. 

In his closing remarks, the 73-year-old Montgomery County resident, now in his second term, quoted remarks that the late Robert F. Kennedy offered in the hours after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

“What we need in the United States is not division,” he said. “What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness. But love and wisdom, and compassion for one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer in our country.” 

By Bruce DePuyt