Ideologies Separate Candidates; Koster Promotes Time as Prosecutor; Martin Focusing on National Debates; ELECTIONS 2012 - Missouri Attorney General
McDERMOTT, Kevin, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
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.
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.
"Right now, I have something like 65 open homicide cases," most referred from smaller counties in the state, he said. "I have an adult lifetime of law enforcement experience."
Koster has presented himself in the mold of Gov. Jay Nixon, a former attorney general and a Democrat who, like Koster, has aggressively played down his party affiliation in a state where being a Democrat isn't an advantage anymore. Koster recently joked about what might now look like a disadvantageous political conversion.
"I get a rap sometimes as a party-switcher, not undeservedly," Koster said in remarks to fellow Missouri Democrats gathered in Charlotte, N.C., in early September for the Democratic National Convention.
He noted the Republican-leaning trend in Missouri, adding that "95 percent of the party switchers go from the minority party into the majority party. It takes a special kind of crazy to the leave the majority party and go into the minority."
Asked about the political aspect of the statewide elected position, Koster played it down.
"As I have approached the job, we are the attorney for the state of Missouri," he said. "We try very hard to remove politics from the decision-making in the office."
Martin argued the most people familiar with Koster's career would find that assertion guffaw-worthy.
"There's no one who knows Chris who doesn't laugh out loud at that. He's all politics," said Martin, reacting to Koster's "no politics" campaign mantra. "This is a guy who will say anything to advance his career."
Martin, 42, a former commercial lawyer and longtime stalwart of conservative causes, created controversy as Blunt's chief of staff in 2007, when he fired Scott Eckersley, a lawyer under him, after Eckersley warned that the administration was improperly destroying email records.
Martin claimed Eckersley was fired for misusing state time and resources; Eckersley alleged it was a retaliation firing over his warning about the records, and he sued.
The suit was ultimately settled for $500,000. In addition, the state paid almost $2 million to defend the case.
Martin, who also has been chairman of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, in 2010 challenged U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, losing narrowly. This year, Martin started to campaign for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., but dropped out of the race to run for the 2nd Congressional district.
He later dropped out of that race to run for the attorney general's office, winning the August primary to challenge Koster.
Martin maintains that the criminal courtroom experience Koster touts is a "red herring" because most of the attorney general's job isn't about leading criminal prosecutions, but defending state officials, laws and interests in the legal system.
Part of that representation, he argued, should be to weigh in on national legal-political issues in ways that reflect the will of Missourians.
"What you have in our campaign is someone who's serious about public service," Martin said Friday. "I believe in the shared values we Missourians have: the constitution and the rule of law."
Koster, he argued, is "not doing his job" by sitting out national debates such as the recent constitutional challenge to the Dodd- Frank law that allows the U.S. to liquidate failing financial institutions. The attorneys general of Michigan, Oklahoma and South Carolina are challenging the law, saying it's restrictive on business, a frequent Republican position nationally.
Martin also criticized Koster for attending the Democratic National Convention this year and voting to support the party's national platform, which includes abortion rights. Martin has been president of the Missouri Roundtable for Life, an anti-abortion group.
Dave Robertson, political scientist at the University of Missouri- St. Louis, said the two candidates' different political backgrounds and approaches can define not only the campaigns, but the office itself, once the eventual winner is in.
"It's not too surprising that Martin would define the race in ideological terms. He's an ideological guy," said. "And it's not too surprising that Koster, who switched parties, would try and define it as 'champion of the people,' " playing down the partisan element.
Party: Democrat (incumbent)
Residence: Harrisonville (Cass County)
Career: Lawyer; former prosecuting attorney in Cass County; former state senator.
Political background: First-term attorney general.
Residence: St. Louis
Career: Lawyer; former chairman of the St. Louis Board of Elections; former chief of staff for ex-Gov. Matt Blunt.
Political background: Ran for Congress in 2010; won GOP primary for attorney general in August.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Ideologies Separate Candidates; Koster Promotes Time as Prosecutor; Martin Focusing on National Debates; ELECTIONS 2012 - Missouri Attorney General. Contributors: McDERMOTT, Kevin - Author. Newspaper title: St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO). Publication date: September 3, 2012. Page number: A1. © 2008 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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