Ideologies Separate Candidates; Koster Promotes Time as Prosecutor; Martin Focusing on National Debates; ELECTIONS 2012 - Missouri Attorney General

Article excerpt

The Missouri attorney general's job is to act as the state's lawyer, enforcing state law, representing state officials in legal disputes and defending state statutes in court.

It's also a key statewide political position, coveted by both parties as a platform for guiding public policy.

This year's attorney general's race may come down to which of those two definitions of the job is more important to voters. The candidates themselves have left little question as to how they want to define it.

"All prosecutor. No politics," intones Attorney General Chris Koster's recent television ad.

"I've prosecuted over 100 murder cases, and won thousands of convictions. My opponent has never even had a jury trial or put even one criminal behind bars," says Koster in the ad. "Missouri's top law enforcement job isn't where beginners go to learn."

The ad makes zero reference to the fact that Koster is a Democrat. But Koster's Republican challenger, Ed Martin, isn't about to let Missourians forget it.

Martin, former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Matt Blunt, routinely refers to Koster as a "liberal Democrat" and President Barack "Obama's lawyer." He has touted endorsements from national Republicans such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. (Koster hasn't pursued corresponding endorsements from national Democrats.)

And Martin has sought to tie the state-level attorney general's race to the national ideological fights in play over "Obamacare" and other hot-button issues out of Washington.

"America and Missouri are facing a crisis, both economic and (in) health care," Martin said in a video interview earlier this year, in which he chided Koster for focusing on enforcement of "byzantine" state agriculture regulations instead of weighing in on those national debates. "It's odd to me that in this time of major crises, we have Attorney General Chris Koster refusing to answer questions about Obamacare."

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," and the two candidates' approaches to it, highlight their vastly different views of the office.

More than two dozen state attorneys general joined a push to overturn the law, while others defended it. Koster's office didn't join either side but filed a Supreme Court brief arguing that the individual mandate in the law violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution - a position Martin derided as "tepid."

"The attorney general's job is to be the chief lawyer for the state and protect the constitution, both Missouri's and the U.S.," which should mean opposing Obamacare, argued Martin. "He's sided with Obama. He's never challenged Obama in any way."

Koster argued that his brief in the case "did not take a partisan voice in this" but instead analyzed the law.

"Missouri had an independent voice," said Koster.

He also noted that the high court's eventual ruling on the issue tracked closely to that brief, rejecting Obama's argument that the law was permissible under the commerce clause but upholding it on other grounds.

DIFFERENCES

If it looks as if the two candidates for the state's highest legal office are talking about different issues, it may be because they are two very different kinds of politicians - though with some similar baggage.

Both have been derided as opportunists, Koster for switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party in 2007, Martin for office- shopping between different political posts this year.

Both have been hit on ethics issues, Koster for accepting political donations from lawyers who were seeking work from his office, Martin for an alleged political firing of an underling while he was Blunt's chief of staff.

Koster, 48, last week pegged his campaign to his criminal courtroom experience, as former prosecuting attorney for Cass County and as the incumbent attorney general. …