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
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
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
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
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. …