GOP looks to break 20-year lock on Mo. AG office

Ed Martin and Chris Koster

Ed Martin and Chris Koster Photo by The Associated Press.

By CHRIS BLANK

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican Ed Martin is trying to put a GOP flag in the Missouri attorney general’s office for the first time in two decades by defeating the incumbent he tags as “Obama’s lawyer.” Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster rejects that nickname and instead uses the slogan: “All prosecutor. No politics.”

The disparate monikers come in an attorney general’s campaign between two candidates with vastly different approaches.

Koster, a former state senator and Cass County prosecutor, has trumpeted his prosecutorial background and highlighted public safety issues. Ads feature his county prosecutor badge and call the post the state’s top law enforcement job. Koster also points out that Martin has not prosecuted anyone or tried a case before a jury.

“I don’t know how you train somebody to be a great trial attorney if you’ve never tried a case yourself,” Koster said in an interview.

Martin, who has been involved in legal cases before a judge and was chief of staff to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, contends the attorney general should be Missouri’s chief legal leader and a defender of the rule of law. Martin has raised concerns about several government regulations and pledged to implement a strategy for resisting the federal health care law within a minute of taking office.

“Attorney general is probably the most important position in Missouri state government in terms of being able to fight some of the key issues that are happening,” Martin said.

The Missouri attorney general’s duties include defending state laws and policies when they are challenged, helping county prosecutors when requested, pursuing consumer fraud cases and investigating potential violations of the state’s open meetings and records law. Politically, it is a prime position from which to seek higher office, and most of those who’ve held the post during the past 60 years eventually have ended up in the Governor’s Mansion or the U.S. Senate.

Democrats have controlled the attorney general’s office since 1993, and an incumbent has not lost re-election in decades.

Heading into the campaign’s final month, Koster enjoyed a cash advantage, reporting more than $2.5 million in his bank account at the start of October compared to a little less than $525,000 for Martin.

Koster, 48, said he has focused on managing an “outstanding law office” and opted to shrink the office while boosting pay to attract better and more experienced lawyers. He said the office’s independence has forged a level of trust among Republicans and Democrats.

Koster took office in 2009 following a bruising primary and after leaving the Republican Party in 2007. Since then, he describes developing a relatively easy alignment with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and “carving out a sort of old-style conservative Missouri Democratic agenda.”

Martin, 42, has worked for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, as an attorney for anti-abortion and school-choice groups and as chairman of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. He left Blunt’s office as chief of staff after a little more than a year and amid growing controversy over the firing of a staff attorney, Scott Eckersley, who claimed the governor’s office had not followed Missouri’s open-records law.

In his first campaign for public office two years ago, Martin nearly upset U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan in a Democratic-leaning eastern Missouri congressional district.

An energetic campaigner, Martin has enlisted help from Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He blasts Koster for being too passive on the health care law, questions the officeholder’s leadership and criticizes campaign contributions from law firms that bid on state contracts.

“Koster has shamefully compromised the integrity of his elected office by bringing Chicago-style pay-to-play tactics to Missouri and it needs to stop immediately,” Martin said.

Earlier this summer, the state auditor raised concerns about the procurement process for contingency fee contracts. Koster’s office said it withdrew all the proposed contracts to address the auditors’ recommendations and that none have been awarded since Koster took office.

On health care, Koster resisted pressure to join numerous states in lawsuits over the law. Ultimately, he filed a written legal argument contending that the law’s requirement that most Americans buy health insurance violated the commerce clause.

Koster said his office spoke after closely researching the issue and allowing both voters and state lawmakers to make clear their positions.

“Then, I thought that consensus on a very complicated, very controversial issue was clear. And then, the state as a whole got involved,” he said.

Besides health care, Martin has proposed assigning a staff member to focus on veterans’ issues and to be their legal advocate. He also proposes committees to take action against excessive government regulations.

Martin opposes as too invasive recent proposals to require a doctor’s prescription for cold and allergy medication containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine.

Koster has endorsed the prescription requirement and worked to build consensus among prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

If re-elected, he plans to set up task forces early next year devoted to urban crime and to consider ways to improve an annual report on law enforcement traffic stops.

Also running in the attorney general’s race is Libertarian Dave Browning, of Oak Grove.

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