“I cannot get him to understand basic legal concepts.”

— Deputy Attorney General Jane Young,

on Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon.

When one of the most respected prosecutors in the state has given up trying to train an elected county attorney because he can’t grasp “basic legal concepts,” it ought to alarm citizens and public officials.

When that county attorney’s office mishandled a case by dropping charges against a man who allegedly promised to murder his girlfriend — and months later the girlfriend was killed and the man arrested — there should be no question of the need for the attorney general to intervene before public safety is further jeopardized.

But when asked to assist in making the process as smooth as possible, Executive Councilors Andru Volinsky and Deb Pignatelli chose instead to play politics.

Last Wednesday, the two blocked Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s request to name as an assistant attorney general former Manchester Police Chief David Mara to take over county prosecutorial duties. Mara is also an attorney and the state’s top drug liaison.

It should have been an easy confirmation vote. But Volinsky, who aspires to replace Gov. Chris Sununu, saw an opportunity to score a political point against his would-be rival. He claimed, absurdly, that the move to bring in Mara was “process by press conference” and “not respecting the will of the majority of voters.”

He suggested that MacDonald was motivated by partisan politics. That was another shameless and outrageous partisan smear of MacDonald from Volinsky, who had earlier blocked MacDonald’s nomination to the state Supreme Court.

MacDonald had similar concerns with Conlon’s Republican predecessor, Dennis Hogan. Had voters not removed Hogan themselves, MacDonald might have wound up intervening a year ago.

That concern and other publicly raised doubts about Hogan helped get Conlon elected last year by only 1,658 votes out of 154,063 votes cast.

If anything can be read into the results of that election, it is that the people wanted to replace a county attorney whose competence was in question and they were willing to roll the dice with Conlon, despite his lack of experience.

It hasn’t turned out well. Several police chiefs have also questioned Conlon’s administration. (See Merrimack chief’s commentary on Page B7.)

Despite the political games, MacDonald will oversee criminal prosecution in the county. He will just have to do it without Mara.

Or he could go with the Volinsky-Pignatelli plan: Just cross your fingers and pray that innocent people are not victimized.