Democratic candidates jump into race for Missouri attorney general
Sarah Unsicker and Elad Gross, both from St. Louis area, would face off in primary in August 2024
State Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, speaks on June 29, 2021, during a House Budget Committee hearing on reimbursement allowance taxes (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).
Democrats have their first potential 2024 statewide primary contest now that a term-limited lawmaker and a lawyer who’s regularly sued the state’s top leaders for Sunshine Law violations are both in the race for attorney general.
State Rep. Sarah Unsicker of Shrewsbury announced her bid for the office in a tweet on Wednesday evening. It follows by just a couple of days the announcement by Elad Gross, who took 44.6% of the primary vote in 2020, that he will again run for attorney general.
Unsicker first won election to the Missouri House in 2016 and is barred from seeking another term. In an interview with The Independent, she said the office has suffered because of turnover by attorneys general who have ambitions for higher office.
The current attorney general is Andrew Bailey, a Republican who took office in January after he was appointed to replace Eric Schmitt, who won a seat in the U.S. Senate two years after winning his first full term. Schmitt was appointed in 2019 to replace Josh Hawley, who won a Senate seat two years after winning election as attorney general.
“We need somebody who wants to be attorney general in that office, somebody who wants to serve in that role and isn’t doing it to run for higher office,” Unsicker said. “We haven’t had anybody who has been in that office for the purpose of running that office for a long time and that needs to change.”
Bailey is seeking a full term in the 2024 election and has drawn a challenger, Will Scharf, a one-time aide to former Gov. Eric Greitens who most recently worked as an assistant U.S. attorney, for the Republican nomination.
Using the attorney general’s office as a step on the political ladder is a bipartisan endeavor. Each of the last seven attorneys general have been nominated for either governor or senator.
As a lawmaker, Unsicker has focused much of her legislative filings on family and education and is ranking Democrat on the Children and Families Committee. As an attorney, she said her practice has focused on family and education law.
She has not practiced much in the past decade, she said.
“I know one criticism I’m gonna get is I haven’t done a lot of litigation work, which is true,” Unsicker said. “I want to be in there to run the office. I don’t need to be the star litigator on cases. Everybody has their place to shine, and I want to make people shine where they can.”
Hawley was elected without ever having argued a case in a trial court.
The attorney general’s office under Hawley, Schmitt and Bailey spent too many resources filing lawsuits against President Joe Biden’s administration and not enough on issues in Missouri, she said.
The Medicaid Fraud Unit in the office has not been used effectively, Unsicker said. Providers, not patients, commit the major fraud, she added, noting that Missouri has not sued Clayton-based Centene as 13 other states have obtained settlements totaling hundreds of millions for inflating drug prices.
The attorney general’s office should also be more aggressive on cases like the Agape Boarding School, which closed in January after former students spent years raising concerns about sexual abuse.
“I would like to see more focus on making sure kids are safe,” Unsicker said.
In his announcement earlier in the week, Gross said he would run if he raised $25,000 and enlisted 50 volunteers by the end of the month. So far, he said in an interview, he’s signed up 200 volunteers and raised $10,600.
He said he agrees with Unsicker that the office has been overly politicized.
“The measurement to decide what you are going to do with Missouri taxpayers’ money should be ‘I want to benefit the people of Missouri,’ not ‘I want to benefit myself politically so I can talk about it on TV,’” Gross said.
Gross is a former assistant attorney general who currently runs his own law firm in St. Louis. His legal practice focuses on the Sunshine Law.
He won a ruling from the Missouri Supreme Court that public agencies could not charge for time attorneys spend reviewing public records that are requested under the state’s Sunshine Law. And he alleges the attorney general’s office under Schmitt violated the Sunshine Law when it denied his request for records in a lawsuit pending in Cole County. He is also suing St. Louis, alleging it is systematically violating the Sunshine Law in its response to records requests.
With Democrats holding no statewide offices, Unsicker and Gross have mixed feelings about the prospects of a primary battle.
Both agree it could bring exposure they would otherwise miss in the summer of 2024. But it could also consume funds better used in a general election campaign.
“It is unfortunate,” Gross said, “because I think the resources, especially for statewide offices for Democrats, are really limited.”
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