Missouri Republicans have a lot of ideas about how to fight crime in the City of St. Louis, even if it means disregarding the overwhelming majority of city residents who voted to re-elect progressive St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner in the August 4 primary. Gardner is the first Black person elected as city prosecutor.
Republicans believe they need to put more children in adult prisons. Gov. Mike Parson believes he needs to allow Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt — the man who is suing China for unleashing the novel coronavirus — to prosecute murders and other violent offenses, though Gardner didn’t ask for help. And state Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis) believes that Parson should have the right to remove Gardner from office if he wishes and replace her with the prosecutor of his choice.
Not one of these white male Republicans – Parson, Schmitt or Onder – live in the City of St. Louis or can vote for the city’s prosecutor.
Onder unsuccessfully proposed his amendment to Senate Bill 1, which the Senate passed on Friday, August 7. The bill gets rid of the residency requirement for St. Louis police officers and lowers the age for adult certification for armed criminal action to 14, among other things.
“The governor may remove any circuit attorney from the office to which the circuit attorney was elected or appointed for any crimes, misconduct, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office or incompetency,” Onder’s amendment stated.
“Immediately upon removal of the circuit attorney, the governor shall appoint and commission a successor to the removed officer. The successor shall possess the qualifications for the office as prescribed by law, and while acting as appointed successor shall perform the duties and receive the salary prescribed for the office by law.”
The amendment was ruled out of order, but the fact that it was even drafted is “appalling,” said St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones. The amendment called into question Parson’s claim that authorizing Schmitt, who has fought hard against Gardner’s progressive reforms, to prosecute cases in St. Louis is not a political attack against Gardner. On August 10, Parson announced his proposal to unleash Schmitt on criminal cases in the city.
“Under the proposal, the circuit attorney still has full and fair opportunity to prosecute murders,” Parson said in a statement. “The proposal does not allow the attorney general to supervise or replace the circuit attorney.”
Parson said Schmitt will be able to prosecute cases only if 90 or more days have passed, the chief law enforcement officer makes the request of the attorney general, and Gardner has not yet filed charges.
In a statement, Gardner said that she agrees with Parson that fighting violent crime, achieving justice for victims, and making our communities safer is a priority.
“However, it is clear that this legislation is not actually about addressing crime. Instead, it serves as a vehicle to interfere with the clear discretion of a democratically elected local prosecutor,” Gardner said. “This allows the governor and his cronies to make a mockery of judicial checks and balances and demolishes any notion of a free and independent judicial system.”
The bill does nothing to actually address the underlying issues that are driving violent crime, Gardner said.
“In fact, my office has an overall felony conviction rate of 97%,” Gardner said. “Unprosecuted crimes in our community come down to two variables – lack of evidence and lack of community trust with law enforcement. Solving crime will take all of us working together, not divisive political maneuvers such as this that are designed to usurp the will of the people.”
Missouri Democratic Party Acting Chair Clem Smith said that the governor’s move is a “shameful and obvious attack” on Gardner, the first Black woman elected to the position. Gun violence is rising across the state, but Parson is only expanding Schmitt’s power over one specific jurisdiction, Smith said.
“It signals Parson’s true intention,” Smith said. “Governor Parson has taken a page from President Trump’s playbook, dog-whistling about cities where Democrats lead.”
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said, “When Gov. Mike Parson initially called this special legislative session, it was clear his purpose was not to address violent crime but to change the subject from his disastrous leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the session took a more sinister turn as the governor seeks to carry out a political vendetta against the only elected African-American woman prosecutor in Missouri.”
Gardner won the August 4 primary with more than 60 percent of the vote. The day after her re-election, Parson announced that the City of St. Louis is getting an infusion of federal law enforcement — 50 federal investigators from the Department of Homeland Security and $1 million from the Bureau of Justice — to “help combat violent crime,” as well as two special United States attorneys from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to support violent crime prosecution.
Schmitt attended the announcement in St. Louis. Gardner did not.
“By now trying to strip her of the prosecutorial discretion and authority enjoyed by every other prosecutor in the state, the governor attacks democracy itself,” Quade said. “Lawmakers must not become co-conspirators in the governor’s politically motivated abuse of power.”