Local News Spotlight

Missouri attorney general race gets personal

Missouri contest features sharp contrasts in candidates’ attitudes and backgrounds.

Updated: 2012-10-23T21:10:40Z

By JASON HANCOCK

The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent

— Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster hopes his message of “all prosecutor, no politics” will earn him a second term on Nov. 6. His Republican challenger, Ed Martin, is hoping Missourians are ready for a change from the man he routinely refers to as “Obama’s lawyer.”

Koster frames the campaign in stark terms as a choice between an experienced prosecutor and a political ideologue. He points out that his opponent has never tried a case before a jury.

“It does not serve the interests of the state for someone to perform the role of attorney general as an ideologue or an extreme partisan,” Koster said. “I’ve been a prosecutor for most of my adult life. No one has ever asked me whether I’m a Republican or Democratic prosecutor. They ask, ‘Can you help my family?’ ”

Martin said the race is about electing an attorney general willing to challenge what he believes is an overreaching federal government. At one point in the campaign, he jokingly promised that if President Barack Obama wins re-election, “I’ll probably sue him every day. If (Mitt) Romney wins, I’ll sue him every other day.”

“The balance of power is so profoundly off between Washington, D.C., and the states that I do think that one of the primary questions over the next five to 10 years will be, how do we push back on that?” Martin said. “Honestly, I don’t think Congress and the president from either party will fix the imbalance without help from us.”

Recent polls show Martin facing an uphill battle to unseat the one-term incumbent, and Koster has raised more money than the Republican, allowing him to launch statewide TV ads touting his record and bashing Martin as “corrupt” and “unfit” for office.

History also may be on Koster’s side. Democrats have controlled the attorney general’s office since 1993, and the last incumbent attorney general to lose re-election was Norman Anderson in 1968.

Koster, 48, is a former Cass County prosecuting attorney and one-term member of the Missouri Senate. He made Missouri political history in 2007 when he announced he was leaving the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat. He said the decision was made due to his longstanding differences with the GOP on such issues as stem cell research, workers’ rights and the nonpartisan court plan.

He was elected attorney general in 2008 as a Democrat.

“My political philosophy is that of a conservative, rural Missouri Democrat,” Koster said. “Government intrusion into our lives should be limited, but there are unquestionably areas where there are problems that government is best equipped to deal with.”

In four years, Koster said, he was able to shrink the size of his office while boosting pay to attract better and more experienced lawyers. Despite the pay raises, he said his office’s budget is still 7 percent smaller than in the last year of his predecessor.

One of his biggest achievements, Koster said, was the fact that he was the first attorney general in the nation to seek criminal charges against DocX, a company that allegedly fabricated signatures on hundreds of real estate documents, some used in foreclosures.

Koster has championed changes to the state’s Second Injury Fund, which covers certain workplace injuries that aggravate pre-existing disabilities.

For years he has warned that the fund is on the brink of insolvency. He intends to convince lawmakers to finally take action before the fund goes bankrupt.

If re-elected, Koster said he also plans to convene a symposium to study urban crime and violence in order to “bring community leaders together to examine that difficult issue.”

Trial lawyers are Koster’s biggest donors, although he also has support from several major Republican donors, most notably retired investor Rex Sinquefield. Koster also was the only Missouri Democrat running statewide to win the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

Martin, 42, was chief of staff to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt and a former chairman of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. He has served as an attorney for anti-abortion and school choice groups, and in 2010 he was narrowly defeated for a seat in Congress by Democrat Russ Carnahan.

This year he originally planned to run for U.S. Senate, then the 2nd Congressional District seat, before dropping out of both races and seeking the GOP nomination for attorney general, which he won in August.

The first priority of his office, Martin said, would be to implement a legal strategy to oppose the federal health care law. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the individual mandate, Martin said, so that aspect of his opposition to the law is legally moot. But there are still many other aspects that will be phased in over time that he would oppose.

“Obamacare is designed to destroy health care over eight years, so we’ve got a lot of fighting to do to try to push back on the pieces,” he said. “This is not just about lawsuits; it’s about standing up for Missourians’ rights. That’s why this is such an important moment.”

Koster filed a legal brief arguing that the individual mandate violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, and he said the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling on the issue tracked closely to his brief.

Martin’s views have earned him the support of several high-profile national Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both of whom have campaigned for Martin in Missouri.

Part of the national interest, Martin said, is the fact that the attorney general’s office has a history of acting as a springboard to higher office.

Martin told the St. Louis Beacon that he has promoted the idea that Koster could run for governor or U.S. Senate one day as a sales pitch, arguing that “you can beat Chris Koster for a couple million bucks now or you could run against him in four years for $10 (million) or $15 million.”

In addition to opposing the federal health care law, Martin said he also will create a division within the attorney general’s office to “protect people from government overreach.”

He also promises to make the attorney general’s office more transparent. He would mirror the Missouri Accountability Portal, which provides online information about how the state spends taxpayer money. The portal was created by Martin’s former boss, Matt Blunt.

Koster has “shamefully compromised the integrity of his elected office by bringing Chicago-style pay-to-play tactics to Missouri,” Martin charged, citing an audit released this past summer that found Koster accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from lawyers seeking business with the state.

Koster’s office responded to the audit by withdrawing the pending contract bids and agreeing to stay out of the bidding process in the future.

“Chris Koster is a career politician who is corrupted by that experience,” Martin said. “He doesn’t appear to have any ideological core.”

Martin has not been immune from political controversy during his public career, and Koster’s campaign has pointed that out in recent ads.

The Republican left his job as Blunt’s chief of staff amid a controversy over the firing of a staff lawyer who claimed the governor’s office was improperly destroying government records. A wrongful-termination lawsuit was filed, which was ultimately settled for $500,000. In addition, the state paid almost $2 million to defend the case.

“Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics called Martin one of the most corrupt politicians in America,” a recent Koster ad stated. “While Martin might not want to advertise that, we thought voters deserve to know.”

Libertarian Dave Browning, 63, also is on the ballot.

To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to jhancock@kcstar.com.

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