Gov. Mike Parson appointed state Treasurer Eric Schmitt as Missouri’s next attorney general Tuesday morning, filling the office that will be vacated by Josh Hawley, who was elected to the U.S. Senate last week.
Schmitt was elected treasurer in 2016. Before that, the Republican served two terms in the state Senate, representing parts of the St. Louis County.
"What an incredible honor it is to be named the lawyer for 6 million Missourians," said Schmitt, who said the U.S. Constitution inspired him to become an attorney. He also said he has a deep respect for the law, that "every single person is entitled to equality of opportunity and a fair shake under the law" and that he'll work with law enforcement to keep Missouri residents safe.
Schmitt’s appointment to the attorney general's office means Parson will have to fill the treasurer vacancy. It also means that, come January, four of the state’s six constitutional officers in the executive branch will not have been elected by voters, Parson included. (Auditor Nicole Galloway did win a full term from voters in last week’s election.)
"It was important to appoint someone who has already been thoroughly vetted by the people of Missouri," the Republican governor said.
When he was asked about appointing the next treasurer, Parson didn't tip his hand.
"It is a unique situation where you appoint people, so we're very cautious about how we go about that process and make sure we get what we believe is the best qualified people that represent all Missourians," he said. "And that's been very important to me to make sure that everybody's humble enough to realize that we are public servants. No more, no less."
Hawley defeated two-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in the Nov. 6 general election by 6 percentage points. He took the reins of the AG’s office in January 2017, and announced his run for the Senate seat just months later.
The new leadership for the attorney general’s office comes as the state is involved in several lawsuits, including a multistate suit targeting the federal health care law. The governor said it would be premature to discuss what the state’s strategy would be moving forward.
“I don't want to have any problems with saying anything I shouldn't say on that,” Parson said. “That will be a time for Attorney General Hawley to sit down with soon to be Attorney General Schmitt to try to discuss all the pending law cases. So I really don't want to get into details of those at this point.”
Hawley also faced criticism for how he reorganized the office, which was outlined in several news reports leading up to the Nov. 6 midterm. Schmitt declined to say whether he would make changes.
“I think it's probably premature to address that. I got the call from the governor on Sunday,” Schmitt said. “I’ve talked with Attorney General Hawley. We're going to sit down with their team and the transition and kind of review all of those issues.”
Parson said Hawley already has submitted his resignation letter, effective Jan. 3, 2019. Hawley said in a news release from the governor's office that Schmitt is "a constitutional conservative and has a proven record of standing up for taxpayers in the treasurer's office."
The state's executive positions began changing June 1, when former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned. Parson assumed the governorship because he was lieutenant governor, and appointed Mike Kehoe as his successor.
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter for KCUR. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews