Editorial: Koster the clear choice for attorney general

2012-10-19T00:15:00Z 2012-10-25T20:28:47Z Editorial: Koster the clear choice for attorney generalBy the Editorial Board stltoday.com

Here's just a sampling of the things we've said over the years about St. Louis attorney Ed Martin, the Republican candidate for attorney general in Missouri.

We called him “unfit for office.” We wrote that he “embraced the worst elements of today's divisive political culture,” that he was in “over his head.” We called him “ethically challenged.”

“Nobody outcrazies Ed Martin,” we wrote. “Nobody.”

All of those things are as true today as they were when we wrote them. Mr. Martin's dishonest campaign involves him driving around the state in an ambulance campaigning against President Barack Obama, who has very little to do with the important business of the Missouri attorney general's office.

We didn't expect Mr. Martin, 42, to seek our endorsement. We weren't surprised that he, unlike most statewide candidates of both parties, refused to meet with us and answer our questions.

Republican voters deserve a serious candidate for attorney general, in many ways the top law enforcement position in the state. They should be outraged that they don't have a legitimate candidate to face the Democratic incumbent, Chris Koster.

Mr. Koster, 48, has his flaws. Like Mr. Martin, he's a political opportunist. Like Mr. Martin, he's had some ethical challenges. In Mr. Koster's case, he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from lawyers seeking business with the state. Like Mr. Martin, he hasn't shown enough respect for the state's open records law, refusing to use the power of the office to elevate the most important accountability measure available to citizens.

But whatever his shortcomings, Mr. Koster is a competent, experienced attorney. Voters would be better if there were two of them in the race. There aren't.

It's not like there aren't highly respected and experienced Republican lawyers who would have made fine candidates. To name a few, Catherine Hanaway of Ladue, a former Missouri House speaker and U.S. attorney; Mike Gibbons of Kirkwood, a former state senator who lost to Mr. Koster four years ago; or current state Sens. Rob Mayer of Dexter and Eric Schmitt of Glendale.

Instead the GOP got behind Mr. Martin, mostly to get him out of a congressional primary race the party didn't want him to win.

We endorse Mr. Koster. He's clearly the better candidate. Here's why:

  • As attorney general, Mr. Koster has surrounded himself with competent lawyers, smartly recruiting former appeals court judges to run his office.
  • Mr. Koster's office aggressively sought and won convictions of St. Louis' Atkinson brothers, who had fleeced thousands of US Fidelis customers who thought they were buying extended auto warranties.
  • Mr. Koster was the first attorney general in the nation to seek criminal charges against a company, DocX, that helped enable the mortgage fraud that helped bring down the nation's economy.
  • Mr. Koster has championed making fixes to the insolvent Second Injury Fund, pushing the Legislature to deal with a serious problem that, if left to fester, will leave Missourians on the hook for millions of dollars in legal judgments to disabled workers.
  • He is an experienced public official, having served as a prosecuting attorney in Cass County and as a state senator. (He won election to those previous positions as a Republican).
  • Finally, the attorney general showed some political courage lacking in other statewide Democrats by coming out strongly in favor of Proposition B, the tobacco tax increase. He is standing up for a reasonable tax hike that will benefit Missouri's school-children and contribute to a healthier population.

There's no doubt that Mr. Koster simmers with ambition. That gives pause to those who see many of his actions tinged with political overtones.

In April, for instance, we accused Mr. Koster of pandering to the political right in a legal brief he filed in one of the federal court challenges to the Affordable Care Act. Whatever his motivation, Mr. Koster's legal arguments were sound. The U.S. Supreme Court found, as Mr. Koster argued, that the individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance violated the Constitution's Commerce Clause, but that it was justifiable if viewed as a tax.

In an editorial board meeting this week, Mr. Koster explained that one of the reasons he filed that brief was to head off a damaging legislative proposal by Republicans that would have limited the attorney general's constitutional power. That was good politicking, and, pandering language aside, quality legal work.

Mr. Koster has proven to be a competent, professional attorney general. His penchant for political pandering pales in comparison to that of his poisonous and poorly qualified opponent.

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