The West County Democrats scheduled a forum for candidates in the Attorney General’s race for this month’s meeting, but unfortunately, we only got a look at Margaret Donnelly and Jeff Harris. Chris Koster was a no show. His campaign informed the WCD hosts that a scheduling glitch had gotten him scheduled for two different events at once.
Since WCD is a very progressive group of people, there was skepticism about the explanation from Koster’s campaign–you know, a feeling that Koster might have canceled because he knew he’d be in hostile territory. I have no idea whether the skepticism was warranted, but I was disappointed. I know and respect Harris and Donnelly, both of them. But I was really looking forward to forming an impression of Koster.
Instead, here’s what I learned: Donnelly and Harris agree on basically every issue–including the idea that Koster isn’t a real Democrat. Margaret pointed out that “there will be two Republicans running in this race–but one of them will call himself a Democrat.” Jeff told us he has an eight month old daughter named Grace. “She’s a Democrat. And she’s been a Democrat longer than one of my opponents.”
What neither candidate did was speak ill of the other. There wasn’t a whisper of that. In fact, Jeff pointed out that when he was leading the Democratic caucus in the House, he appointed Margaret the ranking member on the budget committee. Of course, though, each tried to highlight his or her accomplishments.
Margaret Donnelly portrayed herself as someone who spent twenty years in courtrooms defending victims, especially children who’ve been victims of abuse as well as women who’ve been abused. The AG’s office is, after all, meant to protect Missourians, whether they’re children at the mercy of sexual predators, the seniors too often victimized in financial scams, or consumers hurt by faulty products.
Donnelly says her other strength is her experience with managing large budgets. She’s the only one in the race with that kind of experience, and the AG has to manage a large budget. Furthermore, as a member of the House budget committee, she became familiar with the budgets of many state agencies. That knowledge, she says, will prove valuable to her as AG.
Harris pointed with pride to the fact that two years into his tenure in the House he was chosen to lead the Democratic caucus. Those were dark days for the Ds, he says, and he never backed down.
In fact, Jeff often paints himself as a fighter. For example, he has fought against CAFOs, having introduced a bill this year to give local governmental entities control over their licensing. As he began a short rant about the Farm Bureau, the mike blanked out for a second and he joked that the Bureau probably had it bugged.
He also portrayed himself as someone who, when he worked as an assistant AG for Nixon, successfully fought to defend public employees and their right to collectively bargain when the Republicans tried to curtail that right.
Finally, he spoke with pride of his opposition to Blunt’s secrecy over e-mails. Jeff said that because of his outspoken criticism of Blunt’s tightfisted attitude toward information that ought to be public, Blunt’s office retaliated by insisting that Jeff turn over all his own e-mails and documents to them. Which he willingly did because he isn’t secretive–80,000 documents.
Of course, on the issue of fighting Republican secretiveness, Margaret had her own claim to fame. When the Ethics Commission proposed to have secret meetings with candidates who wanted to claim hardship in returning over-the-limit campaign contributions, she filed a lawsuit to make the Commission hold the meetings in public.
On two issues, I found myself to the left of both candidates. Both favor the death penalty, though both also favor additional protections for those accused of death penalty crimes. Donnelly thinks the AGs office, which handles death penalty appeals, should allot more money to defense counsel. Harris echoed that sentiment and added that DNA evidence should be used in an exculpatory manner, not just as inculpatory.
Both candidates also believe, in reference to eminent domain, that the definition of “blight” must be tightened, but neither seemed to feel that it was wrong to take property for redevelopment.
I was pleased to see both of them, when asked about Nixon’s letter to the California Supreme Court regarding gay marriage, express disappointment. They felt that Missouri law is clear on that subject and that Nixon’s letter was unnecessary.
Harris went after Gibbons for making the first press release of his campaign a call for Nixon to protest the California ruling. “If I had his track record of caving to corporate interests, I’d want to talk about California too.”
Good for both candidates for not thinking it’s OK to kick around the LGBT community, and especially good for Jeff for turning Gibbons’ pandering back on him.
So we have two fine candidates here, but they face a well funded Republican recently turned Democrat. One of the questions posed by the audience was, are you two progressives going to knock each other off and hand the race to Koster? Their answers to that had some meat, but not enough to satisfy me.
Jeff said that he and Margaret have both raised plenty of money and that one of them will win. Progressives need to back one or the other of them. He disdains Koster for carrying the Farm Bureau’s water and doing Blunt’s bidding. “I’m not worried, not scared of this guy.”
Margaret said that Koster only wins if we don’t get the word out about his recent switch of parties. Primary voters can be educated. Furthermore, she says she’s right behind Koster in fundraising. (And, by the way, all her funds come from individuals, whereas five or six contributors gave Koster almost half a million dollars, and Sinquefield gave him $100,000.)
I’d like to believe them, and maybe one of them will win. But I hate these triangles with two of the people I like pitted against each other. But that’s not to say that I hate Chris Koster. In fact, I really wanted to see him today, to see how he struck me.
On the other hand, he’s committed some real Republican sins and needs to be … put into electoral purgatory–at least as far as statewide office–until we see some repentance. Perhaps repentance isn’t so much what I’m looking for as assurance that he has seen the light.
Until then, I’m rooting for Donnelly and Harris. I couldn’t possibly pick a winner after having heard them today. I just know that one of them needs to win in August. As Margaret said, “This race is about the soul of the Democratic Party.”