Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday appointed Eric Schmitt to replace Josh Hawley as Missouri’s next attorney general.
Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate a week ago when he defeated incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Schmitt, 43, currently serves as Missouri Treasurer,. He will complete Hawley’s term ending in 2021.
“It is an incredible honor to be named the lawyer for 6 million Missourians, and I promise to fight each and every day so that the next generation of Missourians have the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed in the greatest country on earth,” Schmitt said.
Parson said Tuesday that it was important that a decision be made quickly on who would replace Hawley so that enough time could be granted for a smooth transition. Hawley has already submitted a letter of resignation, Parson said, and will leave office officially on Jan. 3, 2019, in order to be sworn in as a U.S. senator.
Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway and Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft will be the only statewide office holders in Missouri who were duly elected to their current jobs. Parson was lieutenant governor when took over as governor in June following the resignation of Eric Greitens; Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe was appointed by Parson to replace himself; and Schmitt’s appointment means the governor will have to name a new state treasurer.
Because of that, Parson said he wanted to pick someone to serve as attorney general who had already won the approval of Missouri voters as Schmitt did in 2016 when he was elected treasurer.
“It was important to appoint someone who has already been thoroughly vetted by the people of Missouri,” Parson said.
An attorney from St. Louis County, Schmitt served two terms in the Missouri Senate before being elected state treasurer.
During his time in the Missouri Senate, Schmitt sponsored municipal court reform legislation aimed at addressing problems documented by a Justice Department investigation in the aftermath of the unrest in Ferguson. The legislation sought to outlaw the practice of local municipalities ticketing African Americans as a way to to generate enough revenue to operate their cities.
Among Schmitt’s signature achievements in the state Senate were a bill requiring insurance companies cover autism treatments and another allowing children with epilepsy to access a cannabis extract also known as CBD oil.
Both bills were inspired by his son, Stephen, who suffers from epilepsy, tuberous sclerosis and has also been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Once elected treasurer, Schmitt launched the transparency website Show-Me Checkbook. It’s designed to give taxpayers easy access to data on state spending and revenue, as well as payroll, debt and cash flow. He also championed the MO ABLE program, which allows Missourians living with disabilities to save and invest through tax-free savings accounts without losing eligibility for federal programs like Medicaid.
One similarity between the outgoing and incoming attorney general is that neither Hawley nor Schmitt used email or text messages as part of their government jobs. Transparency advocates have expressed concern that avoiding email and texts — and thus avoiding the creation of public records — makes it difficult for taxpayers to know how these government officials conduct business.
The attorney general’s office is in charge of enforcing the state’s open records laws.
Asked about his practice of avoiding email on Tuesday, Schmitt said it’s something he will evaluate once he begins overseeing the attorney general’s office, which has more than 300 employees around the state.
“As we go through the transition I’ll get a sense of the communication within that office,” he said. “As a management style in the treasurer’s office, I was much more comfortable with in-person meetings and phone calls. I felt that was much more collaborative.”
Schmitt said Tuesday it is premature to discuss any possible reorganization of the attorney general’s office, such as Hawley’s decision last year to eliminate the agency’s agriculture and environment division and to create a federalism unit dedicated to challenging federal laws and regulations.
As state treasurer, Schmitt also served on the Missouri Housing Development Commission. Last year, during the tenure of former Gov. Eric Greitens, Schmitt and Parson were the only members of the commission to vote against ending the low-income housing tax credit.
In the months leading up to his resignation, the former governor and his supporters became convinced that people tied to the low-income housing tax credit industry conspired to promote allegations of misconduct that ultimately upended Greitens’ political career. Those fears were further stoked when it was revealed a Missouri newspaper publisher with ties to the industry paid thousands to the lawyer who publicized the allegations against Greitens.
As attorney general, Schmitt will continue to serve on that commission.
Just seven months into his job as treasurer, Schmitt began exploring the possibility of running for the U.S. Senate against McCaskill.
He met with leaders of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington, D.C., last year to discuss potentially jumping into the race, but begged off when Hawley announced his candidacy.
Parson said no decision has been made about who will replace Schmitt as state treasurer.