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3 running for Missouri attorney general

by Jeff Haldiman | September 8, 2020 at 6:10 a.m. | Updated September 8, 2020 at 6:13 a.m.

The three candidates running for Missouri attorney general come from diverse legal backgrounds and all say their experiences make them qualified to be the state's top law enforcement officer.

The attorney general's office handles thousands of matters at any given time, ranging from enforcement of environmental laws to processing of consumer complaints. The office also acts as special prosecutor when local prosecutors request aid and handles criminal appeals.

Republican incumbent Eric Schmitt has been serving as attorney general since 2019, after Gov. Mike Parson chose him to take over after then-Attorney General Josh Hawley's election to the U.S. Senate in 2018. When Schmitt was chosen, he was serving as Missouri treasurer, which he was elected to in 2016 and had been serving as since 2017. Before that, he served as a state senator from 2009-17 for parts of western St. Louis County.

"There's a lot of work to continue to do, and I'm committed to protecting the citizens of this state," Schmitt said.

Democrat Rich Finneran served as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney in St. Louis from 2010-17. His experience has focused on white collar criminal fraud. This included a record-setting $435 million consumer fraud case to recover money for victims of economic crimes.

"That's what people expect from the attorney general - someone who is going to enforce laws and protect families," Finneran said. "I want to make sure the resources of that office are focused on the work that has to be done, not to make political headlines."

Libertarian Kevin Babcock said he is offering an alternative to the two major party candidates for those who "aren't happy with the choices they have." The self-employed attorney, who served as a public defender in Ava from 2009-14, said his focus would be on criminal justice reform.

"I've seen how the justice system unfairly treats poor people and minorities," Babcock said. "I want to restore confidence in the attorney general's office."

Schmitt said he's committed to supporting men and women in law enforcement and said calls to defund police in the wake of several recent confrontations across the country, including some in Missouri, are not the answer to protect public safety.

"Lawyers in our office have been cross deputized to be able to prosecute in federal court, which has helped us deal with some serious criminal offenses, such as hundreds of carjackings and illegal drug cases," Schmitt said. "I will continue to make sure the law treats everyone fairly.

"After the 2014 protests in Ferguson, I worked to sponsor legislation aimed at stopping St. Louis County police departments from aggressively issuing traffic tickets to raise revenue and to stop municipalities from raking in revenue from nuisance violations," Schmitt continued. "Those practices broke down the trust between the people and government. Law enforcement officers would rather do community policing instead of speed traps."

Finneran said he entered the race for attorney general because he thought Schmitt was using the office more for political matters instead of "protecting citizens and being a watchdog for them."

"(Schmitt) is a former politician and was not elected to his current office," Finneran said. "He's used the office to pursue policy that no one voted for. This includes a lawsuit that would throw out the Affordable Care Act, if successful. That would undermine what voters approved last month when they approved expanding Medicaid and improve health care. If I am elected, I will work to protect health care, not take it away from citizens."

Babcock said he would advocate for money for public defenders.

"When I was a public defender, the starting salary was $37,000," Babcock said. "We're supposed to be equally matched in cases, but the prosecutors have more power, and they use it. The focus of the attorney general should be justice, not just convictions. We need to get away from the practice of overcharging to get people to plead so they won't go to trial. There's an enormous imbalance between the two sides."


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