Should the Attorney General Be Appointed?
I don’t usually pay too much attention to letters to the editor, but there was a very interesting one in the Jefferson City News-Tribune, linked to on Combest today. The letter writer notes the political differences between the current governor and attorney general, and suggests that Missouri follow the federal system, whereby the attorney general is appointed by the president subject to confirmation by the Senate. The writer seems to think that this would lead to better government in Missouri. Would it?
I am not going to get into the partisan aspect of the question, but I think making the attorney general an appointed position would be a terrible idea. It is very important that the highest legal officials at the state and local levels be responsible directly to, and only to, the voters. Almost every state has an elected attorney general. I think they are appointed in Alaska and Hawaii, and maybe another western state or two, but they are elected everywhere else and for good reason. Locally, even counties in Missouri that have eliminated most of their elected positions have retained the prosecuting attorney as an elected position (St. Louis and Jackson). This is for the exact same reason I listed earlier independence from all other officials in enforcing the laws.
I actually think Missouri has just about the right amount of statewide elected officials. I can think of good reasons for maintaining all six as elected. I don’t think, though, that we should add any new ones, like commissioner of insurance or railroad commisioner to give a couple of examples of offices that are subject to elections in other states. Missouri certainly has examples of positions that should be appointed instead of elected (county coroners jump to mind), but I think we have it correct statewide.