JEFFERSON CITY • Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday announced that state Treasurer Eric Schmitt would become Missouri attorney general when current Attorney General Josh Hawley resigns in January to become a U.S. senator.
Schmitt, a Republican, earned his law degree from the St. Louis University School of Law in 2000. He served two terms in the state Senate representing parts of west St. Louis County, and was a partner at the Lathrop Gage law firm until being sworn in as state treasurer in 2017.
“We have discussed many qualified candidates,” Parson, a Republican, told reporters in his Capitol office on Tuesday morning. “But in the end, it was important to appoint someone who has already been thoroughly vetted by the people of Missouri.”
Schmitt, 43, will take over as attorney general after a two-year period of flux within the agency. Hawley reorganized the attorney general’s office when he took over in January 2017, but critics say the agency has been plagued by high turnover and low morale with Hawley at the helm.
Hawley, a Republican who defeated Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill on Nov. 6, came into office without the Missouri connections of past attorneys general. Before taking a job as a University of Missouri associate law professor in 2011, Hawley worked in Washington.
Schmitt, on the other hand, has Capitol connections as well as roots within the St. Louis legal community. State Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, said she and Schmitt both worked at the now-defunct Blumenthal, Kaplan & Sandweiss law firm in the early 2000s.
“Aside from our ideological differences, I think that he would do a good job,” Mitten said. “Eric is an attorney that is respected within our community.”
Joplin businessman David Humphreys gave nearly $1.17 million to the group this past election cycle, according to Open Secrets. Humphreys also supported Hawley’s bid for attorney general.
Last Monday, Schmitt told the Post-Dispatch he was not lobbying for an appointment.
“I’m focused on getting Josh elected,” Schmitt said.
Hawley on Tuesday congratulated Schmitt on Twitter, calling Schmitt “a constitutional conservative” with “a proven track record of standing up for taxpayers & citizens.”
Congrats to @Eric_Schmitt on his appointment as the next AG of Missouri! The AG’s job is to fight for the people MO, and I know @Eric_Schmitt will dedicate himself to this work. He is a constitutional conservative w/ a proven track record of standing up for taxpayers & citizens— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) November 13, 2018
Schmitt will be the state’s top law enforcer and will have wide latitude to initiate inquiries and file lawsuits. He said it was too early to say whether he would continue Missouri’s participation in a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The attorney general’s office also has ongoing inquiries into Google, Facebook and possible Catholic clergy sex abuse. The office has filed a host of lawsuits in recent months, including a lawsuit against the St. Louis Housing Authority and another filed against Branson Duck Boats and Ripley Entertainment after a deadly accident on Table Rock lake this summer.
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.
“I’m committed to being an attorney general who listens,” Schmitt said Tuesday. “Gov. Parson has been a champion of transparency in the governor’s office. It is a commitment that I share and intend to bring that same commitment to this office as well.
“Everyone in this state deserves to feel safe,” Schmitt said. “And our kids have a right to grow up and pursue their dreams without fear of violence.”
In the state Senate, where he served from 2009 to 2017, Schmitt sponsored legislation after the 2014 Ferguson protests aimed at stopping St. Louis County police departments from aggressively issuing traffic tickets to raise revenue. Schmitt called the practice “taxation by citation.”
Traffic citations in St. Louis County have dropped in the post-Ferguson era, after the passage of Senate Bill 5. Schmitt sponsored another bill in 2016 designed to stop municipalities from raking in revenue from nuisance violations.
“In that effort we created a broad coalition to fight the abusive, revenue-generating schemes where some cities treated citizens as nothing more than ATMs,” Schmitt said. “I’ll bring the undying commitment I brought to that fight to the attorney general’s office and ensure we honor the rule of law with justice and fairness for all.”
Schmitt lives in Glendale with his wife, Jaime, and three children, Stephen, Sophia and Olivia. In the Legislature, Schmitt said he was motivated by Stephen to work on certain bills.
Stephen was born with a genetic condition that causes tumors on his organs. Stephen also is on the autism spectrum and has epilepsy.
In 2010, the Legislature approved a bill Schmitt supported that requires insurance companies to cover autism treatments. In 2014, Schmitt backed the first major loosening of Missouri’s marijuana laws, allowing children with epilepsy to access nonintoxicating oil derived from cannabis.
When Hawley was inaugurated, he eliminated the agency’s environmental and agricultural division, raising eyebrows among former agency attorneys who said the division dealt with some of the state’s most complicated cases.
Hawley also formed a Federalism Unit specifically to sue the federal government, something recent Democratic attorneys general did not emphasize.
The Post-Dispatch reported in October that under Hawley’s leadership, experienced litigators departed and other staffers bolted from the attorney general’s office at a steady clip, even after the so-called transition phase of his administration.
Schmitt said he had not yet made decisions about the organization of the office. He also said he plans to reside in Jefferson City. Hawley did not move to the capital city when he took office, in possible violation of the law. He did lease an apartment in Jefferson City after the Post-Dispatch reported the issue.
At 43, Schmitt will be the second-youngest state officeholder in Jefferson City after Auditor Nicole Galloway, who is 36. Schmitt is also the tallest state officeholder. He stands 6 feet 6 inches tall.
A St. Louis County native, he graduated from De Smet Jesuit High School and Truman State University.
By appointing Schmitt, Parson also gets to appoint a new state treasurer. It was unclear Tuesday whom he would choose.
Because of the rejiggering of state offices, come January, four of six statewide offices will be filled by people who were not elected to their particular position. Parson, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016, took over for scandal-plagued Gov. Eric Greitens when Greitens resigned in June.
Parson appointed then-state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, to be lieutenant governor. The only office holders who have won their seats at the ballot box are Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican elected in 2016, and Galloway, a Democrat who won a full term as auditor last Tuesday.
Galloway is the only Democrat left in statewide office.
Meanwhile, at least one Democrat is already angling to take Schmitt on in 2020, assuming Schmitt runs to keep his new job. Elad Gross, a St. Louis attorney and former assistant attorney general, announced on Monday that he intends to seek the Democratic nomination.
Gross has yet to form a campaign committee. Schmitt had just under $350,000 in his campaign coffers as of Oct. 1.
Gross in June sued A New Missouri, a nonprofit allied with Greitens, after the group declined to turn over financial records to Gross, a private citizen. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem sided with Greitens’ attorneys last week, saying Gross did not have the right to inspect the records.
Gross has said Hawley’s office should investigate A New Missouri under the state’s consumer protection and anti-fraud statutes. Hawley has not done so, saying that the Missouri Ethics Commission is investigating.
Hawley also has declined to update the public on two other investigations: one having to do with whether Greitens used taxpayer resources for political gain, and the other relating to Greitens’ ties with his former charity, The Mission Continues.
Mary Compton, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement on Friday that both investigations were “ongoing.” She did not elaborate.
It is unclear how Schmitt will handle lingering controversy from the Greitens era.
Editor's note: a previous version of this article misstated the amount of money Humphreys donated to the Missouri Rising Action super PAC.