Editor's note: This article is part of a series offering primers on the candidates and issues on the November 2020 ballot.
Of the five statewide offices on Missourians’ ballots this fall, there’s no question the governor has the biggest job. But you can make a good case for attorney general as runner-up.
The state’s top lawyer and the hundreds of attorneys in their office are responsible for defending the state, its citizens and its interests in all kinds of legal matters.
One division deals with felony appeals from around the state, another fights consumer fraud and monopolies, and still others deal with Medicaid fraud and the Big Tobacco settlement.
Then there’s the stuff that makes headlines: the office defends state laws challenged as unconstitutional, sues to have corrupt public officials removed from office and files lawsuits against anything the attorney general thinks harms the state, including the federal government.
Here are your options for where to rest those responsibilities:Eric Schmitt
Schmitt, 45, is the Republican incumbent. He was appointed to the job after Josh Hawley's election to the U.S. Senate in 2018.
He was previously elected as state treasurer in 2016 and as state senator for part of St. Louis County before that. He worked in private legal practice before entering politics.
Schmitt’s campaign has focused heavily on his efforts to fight violent crime:one of his TV adssums him up as Missouri’s “tough on crime, law and order attorney general.”
That focus is somewhat unusual because state law leaves most of that work to local county prosecutors, but Schmitt has worked around that by partnering with U.S. Attorney’s offices to charge federal crimes.
Schmitt’s office said the partnership has resulted in 369 charges against 212 defendants with 52 convictions as of this week.
A campaign advertisement said it also allowed him to “impose stiffer sentences on violent felons,” though that’s far less important than convictions because criminals generally care less about the severity of a punishment than whether or not they’ll be punished at all.
In that same vein, Schmittlobbied for legislation to let him take over homicide cases from St. Louis’ top prosecutor, saying she wasn’t charging enough people.
The measure passed in the state Senate, but the Republican-controlled Houserefused to take it up in special session.
Criminologists also questioned how much Schmitt could really do, noting the majority of homicides in St. Louis can’t be prosecuted becausepolice haven’t solved them.
Schmitt also talks about how he’s helped sue rogue opioid manufacturers, fought human trafficking and worked through a backlog of previously untested sexual assault kits to hold offenders accountable.Rich Finneran
Finneran, 36, is the Democratic challenger.
He worked as a federal prosecutor in St. Louis for eight years with a focus on white-collar crime and now works in private practice.
He says he’ll fight crime, too, and work on issues like lack of housing and access to health care while he’s at it.
Finneran said his first priority, however, will be “restoring integrity” to the office by ending the “political lawsuits” Schmitt has started.
At the top of his hit list isa suit aimed at ending the Affordable Care Act, which bars health insurers from denying coverage with pre-existing conditions and allows more people to qualify for Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor.
“The lawsuit is a totally inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars to try to take away health care protections from the people of Missouri, especially afterthe vote we took in August to expand Medicaid,” Finneran said in a recent interview.
(Schmitt has said he’s just doing his job, challenging a statute he believes is unconstitutional.)
Finneran said he would also drop a lawsuit against China for its handling of the pandemic “with no chance of recovering a single dollar” and stop trying to defend a state law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, which he says is “unconstitutional as written.”
(A federal judgeblocked the law from taking effect last August; Schmitt is appealing that decision.)
Finneran said he also would make a point of defending against legal attacks on Clean Missouri, a voter-approved overhaul of ethics and redistricting laws.Kevin Babcock
Babcock, an attorney from St. Louis, is the Libertarian candidate. He previously worked as a public defender andtold the Fulton Sun he would focus his term on leveling the playing field between prosecutors and defendants.
“The focus of the attorney general should be justice, not just convictions,” he told the newspaper.
Part of that would also include advocating for more money for the state’s public defenders, who are regularly among the worst-funded in the country.