In a close race, challenger Locke Thompson defeated incumbent Mark Richardson in Cole County's August primary election for the Republican nomination for prosecuting attorney.
As he prepares to face Democratic candidate Deirdre "DK" Hirner in the Nov. 6 general election, Thompson said, he doesn't plan to change his campaign approach.
"At the end of the day, it came down to knocking on people's doors and meeting people," Thompson said. "Folks in Cole County were happy to see that kind of effort, and I'm ready to go back at it."
Richardson, who has held the position for 12 years, will remain in the office until January, when a new prosecutor will be sworn in.
Thompson worked as an assistant prosecutor in Jasper County from 2016-17, before returning to his hometown of Jefferson City to work in the special prosecutions unit of the Missouri Attorney General's Office. He left that position in early March to campaign for Cole County prosecuting attorney.
Thompson's answer to concerns about his experience is that he has gained a lot of courtroom experience in a short amount of time.
"I think the best folks to ask about my experience or my youth would probably be some of the folks I've put away including former public officials and violent sexual predators," Thompson said. "I think it's important you have somebody in the office who, when a case comes across their desk, they know what they're doing. Prosecuting has been my entire career. This is what I'm passionate about."
Thompson said he would have a good working relationship with local law enforcement agencies if elected, and he said he already has had conversations with Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler on "working together to make sure that justice gets done."
From the beginning of his campaign, Thompson said the top issue for him is the crisis Cole County and the rest of the country faces concerning opioids.
"It caught a lot of attention, and the public understands that what we've been doing the past 50-60 years to address this issue isn't working," Thompson said. "I think that message was well received and crucial to my winning this race."
The majority of felony cases a county prosecutor will face are felony drug cases. Cole County had 712 felony criminal cases in 2017, 455 of which were felony drug cases, according to records from the Office of State Courts Administrator.
Thompson would like to establish a mental health court to help deal with the problem, because, he said, 80 percent of drug addicts have underlying mental health issues they may be self-medicating. He favored having drug courts like the county currently has but added also implementing a mental health court will give offenders who meet criteria "the opportunity to go through a system that really addresses, in depth, both issues."
"There's also a lot that prosecutors can do to affect the demand for those drugs," Thompson said. That would include steering qualified offenders to alternative judicial venues such as drug, mental health and veterans courts, "so that in the long run, they're not going back to that drug use.
"If you just throw people in prison without treating them for drug addiction or a mental health issue, they're three times more likely to come back out and re-engage in that activity."
If elected, Thompson said, he wouldn't be intimidated by a large number of cases to deal with when he walks into the office.
"I had 1,000 open cases on my own personal docket when I was in Jasper County, so I'm not too worried about jumping back into something like that," he said.