Missouri Governor Mike Parson has named State Treasurer Eric Schmitt to replace outgoing Attorney General Josh Hawley, who’s becoming a U.S. Senator.
All three men are Republicans who assumed statewide office at the same time after the November 2016 election. Hawley will next be serving on the federal level after defeating two-term Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill in this month’s general election.
Governor Parson said Tuesday while announcing Schmitt’s appointment that Hawley has already submitted his resignation dated January 3rd, the date he’ll assume his Senate seat.
Schmitt’s move to Attorney General means there will now be three statewide officeholders serving in positions in which they were not elected.
Governor Parson himself moved up from the Lieutenant Governor’s position with the resignation of former Republican head of state Eric Greitens. Parson then appointed Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe to the Lieutenant Governor’s seat.
The Governor said he’s been careful to select candidates who have the credentials to serve the state. “You’re in a position as governor, it is a unique situation where you appoint people,” said Parson. “So, we’re very cautious about how we go about that process and make sure that we get what we believe is the best-qualified people that represent all Missourians.”
The state Democratic Party has brought a lawsuit challenging Parson’s authority to appoint a Lieutenant Governor. That case is now being considered by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Schmitt’s move to Attorney General opens a vacancy for the Treasurer’s seat. Parson indicated he was in the process of choosing a replacement but didn’t say when a decision would be made other than to say that he’s working to find the best candidate for the job.
In the leadup to this month’s election, outgoing Attorney General Hawley’s performance in office came under scrutiny and criticism.
The New York Times reported that his tenure in office had been chaotic and expensive for taxpayers, noting that Hawley focused on high profile political cases such as a lawsuit he joined to overturn the Affordable Care Act while his office was shorthanded of qualified attorneys. Legal settlements paid by the state, which totaled $22 million during two years of the previous administration rose to $35 million in 2018 under Hawley’s watch.
Hawley also made moves inside the Attorney General’s office that could be interpreted as reflecting a conservative ideology and agenda. He eliminated the office’s agriculture and environment division and formed a federalism unit to battle against regulations from Washington. Tuesday, Schmitt said it was premature to say what the future would be with changes Hawley made to functions within the agency.
Governor Parson also said it would be too early to comment on the high-profile lawsuits Hawley entered into with other states, including the one to overturn the Affordable Care Act. “I don’t want to have any problems with saying anything that I shouldn’t say,” said Parson. “That’ll be a time for Attorney General Hawley with the soon to be Attorney General Schmitt to try to discuss all the pending law cases.”
If the case against the Affordable Care Act is successful, insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions would be done away with. Preexisting conditions turned into a hot-button issue in the Senate contest between Hawley and McCaskill.
Hawley also initiated a lawsuit joined by 11 other states challenging California’s law for the sale of eggs, claiming it violates federal statute and the U.S. Constitution. California voters approved a ballot initiative requiring egg-laying hens in that state to have enough space to extend their limbs and lay down. California legislators then expanded the law to ban the sale of eggs from hens that were not raised in accordance with that standard.
It remains to be seen how aggressive Schmitt will pursue the high-profile lawsuits undertaken by Hawley. Among Schmitt’s biggest accomplishments as a Missouri lawmaker was an income tax break passed in 2014 and restrictions on cities determined to be abusing traffic and court fines to bankroll local government.
During his address at the Governor’s announcement of his new appointment, Schmitt stated that it was his son Stephen, who is non-verbal, epileptic and on the autism spectrum, that inspired him to seek public office “to have a greater impact”. He addressed questions from reporters on whether he would reside in Jefferson City, based on his son’s conditions. “Our family situation is a little bit different, given Stephen’s challenges and the support network,” said Schmitt. “We’ll address that as a family, but I intend to reside in Jefferson City.”
Missouri law dating back to 1835 requires the Attorney General to live in Jefferson City in order to conduct business at the capitol. Hawley was unsuccessfully sued by a Democratic voter for keeping a residence about 20 miles outside Jefferson City.
Schmitt grew up in the St. Louis area. He earned a scholarship to attend law school at Saint Louis University where he became the first person in his family to graduate from law school. He currently lives with his family in the St. Louis suburb of Glendale.