Treasurer Eric Schmitt will become Missouri attorney general
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday named fellow Republican state Treasurer Eric Schmitt to replace Sen.-elect Josh Hawley as the state’s next attorney general.
Schmitt’s appointment leaves yet another vacancy in an elected statewide office for Parson to fill, which the governor said he’s in the process of doing. Nearly half of Missouri’s statewide executive officeholders have been appointed and not elected to their seats.
Parson himself was not elected governor: As the then-lieutenant governor, he took the reins after former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned amid personal and political scandal in June. Voters elected Parson separately from Greitens in 2016. Parson then appointed his replacement , current Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, in a move that Democrats have challenged in court. The case is pending before the Missouri Supreme Court.
Schmitt was elected treasurer in 2016 after serving as a state senator representing suburban St. Louis. Hawley unseated Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill during the Nov. 6 election, and he’s set to be sworn in as the state’s next U.S. senator in January.
Parson said he wanted to appoint someone who had already been “thoroughly vetted by the people of Missouri” through an election. He said Schmitt “has a clear understanding and respect for the rule of law, is a proven leader and is fully qualified” to be attorney general.
“As the lawyer for 6 million Missourians, including the guy driving the big rig working his tail off and the waitress working two jobs to make ends meet, I’m their lawyer,” Schmitt said. “I’m going to fight for them and make sure they’re treated fairly.”
University of Missouri political scientist Peverill Squire said the appointees will have an advantage when they’re up for election in 2020 and can leverage their offices to build name recognition. That, he said, “may give the voters less of an opportunity to make those decisions than they might otherwise enjoy.”
He also said there’s less of a firewall between Parson and his appointees, which could raise concerns if Schmitt is ever called on to investigate the governor, as Hawley did with Greitens.
“The question then becomes whether that person is in a position where they would be able to challenge the governor if the governor did something that might raise legal or constitutional concerns,” Squire said. “That’s generally why most states have opted to have an elected state attorney general, because that does provide for an independent view of what’s going on in state politics separate from the governor.”
When asked by a reporter Tuesday about whether voters should have confidence in their unelected leaders, Parson said: “I hope they do.”
Hawley launched an investigation of Google, a review of possible clergy abuse and added Missouri to a multistate lawsuit against former President Barack Obama’s health care law during his short time in office. Parson said Schmitt and Hawley will discuss how to handle pending state lawsuits later.
Schmitt grew up in the St. Louis suburbs, graduated from Truman State University and earned a law degree from Saint Louis University. He served as an alderman in his suburban St. Louis home of Glendale before voters elected him to the state Senate in 2008 and again in 2012.
He’s often said his work in public office has been influenced by his son, Stephen, who was born with a rare condition that causes tumors on his organs. He also has epilepsy, is on the autism spectrum and is nonverbal.
As a state senator, Schmitt passed legislation to require insurance coverage for some children with autism-related disorders and pushed through a bill allowing epileptic patients to use a cannabis extract for treatment. Schmitt, while running for treasurer, also sponsored a measure that created MO ABLE accounts, which allow someone with a disability or their family to open a tax-exempt savings account to pay for related expenses. The state treasurer oversees the program.
Schmitt also notably sponsored a Missouri law that capped profits that cities and other municipalities can keep from traffic tickets and court fines, a policy goal that gained traction after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Brown’s shooting didn’t involve a traffic stop; the black, unarmed 18-year-old was walking in the street when white police Officer Darren Wilson stopped him in August 2014. But Brown’s death and the sometimes violent protests that followed drew attention to some residents’ and legal advocates’ concerns about the generally white police force’s treatment of people in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb, including the use of police to collect revenue through traffic fines and court fees.
The Missouri Supreme Court later overturned parts of the law that imposed a lower cap on St. Louis-area municipalities than on other areas of the state.
Schmitt won the treasurer’s seat in 2016 by a 17-point margin over his Democratic rival. According to his office, he received more votes than any other treasurer in state history.
Wealthy businessman and prolific Missouri political donor Rex Sinquefield gave $750,000 to Schmitt’s campaign for treasurer. That was before Missouri voters imposed campaign contribution limits on most state candidates.