Other Voices: Shut down bill to intervene in local prosecutions

The Examiner

In the wee hours of the morning Sept. 3, the Missouri Senate shut off debate in order to pass a measure to allow the Missouri attorney general to intervene in local prosecutions; the House should reject the bill.

We thought this proposal dead, and this editorial board earlier commended the Legislature on its sound judgment in rebuking the governor when he proposed adding the measure to an omnibus bill containing his favored public safety measures. That bill looked certain to pass, but lawmakers walked away from the special session, effectively killing the omnibus bill because of the governor’s last-minute addition.

As we said then, empowering the state attorney general to intervene to undercut a local prosecutor is a bad idea. It has the huge potential for political abuse and is antithetical to local control, a principle Republican lawmakers should stand firmly behind.

In our state, the attorney general primarily acts to defend state law and represent state agencies in court. The office has limited authority to prosecute, given most crimes are charged and prosecuted locally, though local authorities can request help from the attorney general if needed. The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys has written to strongly object to the proposal.

Though Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Gov. Mike Parson have said the goal of the bill is to help fight a surge in violent crime in Missouri’s larger cities, it is pretty clear the bill’s primary goals are political, intended to slap down St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner, a Democrat who is the city’s first Black prosecutor. She is loathed by conservatives for investigating former Gov. Eric Greitens, for other investigations and statements, and for her actions in office.

The measure would expire in 2023, a year before Gardner and Schmitt are up for reelection. The expiration date was probably added to bring votes from those afraid the other side might take advantage of the measure if it won the office; we see the deadline as providing strong evidence the effort is chiefly political.

Intervention in prosecutions should never be a political tool, nor should the prosecutions themselves. Too much legislation has become political theater, and this bill is one of the worst.

Keep control local. Keep prosecutions local. Reject this bill.

– The Joplin Globe