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State Treasurer Eric Schmitt to become Missouri AG after Hawley elected to Senate

State Treasurer Eric Schmitt addresses the press on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, after Gov. Mike Parson announced Schmitt will become Missouri attorney general when current Attorney General Josh Hawley resigns to become a U.S. senator. The press conference was held in the governor's office in Jefferson City. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Gov. Mike Parson is making sound choices in the job he inherited after former Gov. Eric Greitens’ scandal-plagued administration ended June 1. Parson’s appointment Tuesday of state Treasurer Eric Schmitt, a fellow Republican, to be Missouri’s new attorney general offers hope that the state’s top lawyer will be someone actually dedicated to the job.

Soon-to-be-former Attorney General Josh Hawley was never quite there, having turned his focus to this year’s U.S. Senate campaign soon after his 2016 election. Hawley’s Nov. 6 defeat of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., means he will head for Washington in January. All indications are that Schmitt is a serious public servant who will treat the attorney general’s office as the vital one it is and not just another rung in a climb up the political ladder.

Parson now will have to fill Schmitt’s treasurer’s seat, which sets up an unusual scenario: Four of Missouri’s six non-federal statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer — will be filled by people who weren’t elected to those offices. This disconcerting situation is an ongoing repercussion from Greitens’ brief, disastrous reign.

Schmitt didn’t receive the editorial board’s 2016 endorsement for treasurer. We opted for his Democratic opponent, Judy Baker, who we argued had more relevant experience. But we also noted Schmitt’s positive attributes, including his history of bipartisanship as a legislator and his leadership in sponsoring post-Ferguson municipal court reforms. His performance as state treasurer has been a picture of quiet competence.

That should mark a welcome shift at the attorney general’s office, which Hawley politicized to spotlight attention-grabbing and divisive national issues — including dragging Missouri into a multistate lawsuit attempting to kill the Affordable Care Act — while neglecting less flashy but more crucial functions, like going after illegal polluters. An exodus of experienced litigators from the office was widely blamed on low morale under Hawley, whose ideological fervor and ambitions for higher office were quickly obvious.

Parson’s choice of Schmitt is the kind of level-headed decision-making Missouri is learning to expect from the new governor, who has proven to be his chaotic predecessor’s opposite in just about every way. Parson earlier appointed state Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe to succeed him as lieutenant governor, another solid choice. It’s safe to assume Parson’s eventual decision on the new state treasurer will be a responsible one.

Still, it’s a disturbing statement about what one unfit officeholder like Greitens can do to a state’s leadership landscape that, months later, we’re looking at having most statewide offices held by people the voters didn’t put there. Missouri voters’ choices in the 2016 election serve as a reminder of how important it is to prioritize substance over style and dedicated public servants over ladder-climbers.

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