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Schaefer jumps into scrum for attorney general

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 19, 2013: Sen. Kurt Schaefer got an early start to the 2016 election cycle, announcing that he will compete in the likely open contest for attorney general.

Schaefer, R-Columbia, made his bid official in an interview with the Beacon and a number of other media outlets. Since Attorney General Chris Koster will likely run for governor in 2016, that leaves an effectively open contest to replace the Democratic official.

“The attorney general’s office is an extremely important position – it’s the top law enforcement agency in the state of Missouri,” Schaefer said in an interview. “There is no doubt that in addition to the experience, it takes the right disposition and a steady hand. And if you want to call that reasonableness, then call it reasonableness. But I think it’s absolutely necessary to be able use the tools of that office most effectively to protect Missourians.”

Schaefer – the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee – said his attorney general run is “a culmination of almost 20 years of legal service in the public and private sector.” Schaefer is a partner with the Kansas City-based Lathrop & Gage. And before that, he previously served as the general counsel and deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources.  

Schaefer – a St. Louis native – burst into electoral politics in 2008 when he defeated Democratic Sen. Chuck Graham, becoming the first Republican to represent Boone County in the Missouri Senate in decades. He broke further precedent last year when he became the first Boone County Republican to win re-election to the Missouri Senate.

Schaefer has long emphasized his experience in criminal law as an assistant attorney general and special assistant U.S. attorney, adding he's been involved prosecuting individuals for rape, capital murder and drug dealing. He went onto to say he’s “been involved in some of Missouri’s most complex civil litigation – both environmental and otherwise,” adding that “there’s not a job in the attorney general’s office that I could not walk into tomorrow and do myself.”

“I believe that I have the right disposition,” he said. “The attorney general sets the legal climate in the state of Missouri and it’s his job to muster the resources of the state to protect Missourians’ rights. … I think it’s incumbent on the attorney general to have the appropriate experience and the level of judgment and a steady hand to know when to use those resources.”

During this past session, Schaefer gained attention for his hearings regarding the Department of Revenue’s new process for issuing driver’s licenses. He said numerous concerns that were raised about scanning and retaining documents to obtain licenses were backed up in a recent report from Auditor Tom Schweich.

“It again showed knowing when to use the appropriate tools to bring forth the truth and protect the rights of Missourians,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer’s statewide bid is not necessarily a surprise. Earlier this summer, Schaefer – who is term-limited in the Missouri Senate -- contributed $500,000 from a family trust into his campaign account. Other statewide contenders -- including Koster -- have self-funded their campaigns. 

“I’m making the public commitment that I’m committed to this race,” he said. “And I’m going to have the resources to be successful.”

Still, Schaefer likely won’t be the only Republican who seeks the post. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has strongly hinted that he will also run for attorney general, including on the Politically Speaking podcast. Other potential contenders include Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and former U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway. (Schmitt, like Schaefer, works for Lathrop & Gage.)

Asked whether he may be at a geographical advantage against several St. Louis-area candidates, Schaefer said “I’m not going to speculate on who else may run.” But Schaefer did add he has personal and professional connections all over the state, as well as his work in agricultural policy.

On the Democratic side, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker have been mentioned as potential attorney general candidates.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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