Bob Buckley for The Examiner: Attorney General’s Office is Often a Stepping Stone

August 24, 2021

Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley describes how the Missouri attorney general position has been a step toward higher office over the last 50 years.

The article, Attorney General’s Office is Often a Stepping Stone, was published in the August 21 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.

The attorney general of Missouri is an important office. The election of the attorney general is provided for in the Missouri constitution, but the duties of the attorney general are set forth in the Missouri statutes. A primary duty is to assist prosecutors in criminal cases, and the attorney general’s office handles all criminal appeals.

The law provides that the attorney general is a full-time position and that the attorney serving in that position shall not otherwise practice law. The attorney general is essentially the managing partner of a large law firm and oversees the legal affairs of the state.

Some very good lawyers have served the state as the chief lawyer in my legal career. The office has been a good training ground for higher office, and many of those who have served as attorney general did achieve election to higher office.

It began with Thomas Eagleton, who served as the chief lawyer from 1961 to 1965. He was the youngest attorney general in Missouri history. He then ran for the United States Senate in 1968, after serving four years as lieutenant governor, and unseated another Democrat, Edward Long. He then was a vice presidential candidate with George McGovern in 1972 but had to withdraw after revelations about mental health issues surfaced. He then ran for election in 1974 and served three more terms until 1987. He was replaced by Kit Bond, who had not been attorney general, but served as Missouri’s auditor from 1971 to 1973 until he was elected governor for two terms before running for the Senate, where he served four terms. He received his training as auditor and then governor before running for the United States Senate.

Jack Danforth served as attorney general from 1969 to 1977. He was the first Republican elected to that office in 40 years. He ran for the United States Senate in 1970, but lost in a close race to the incumbent, Stuart Symington. He then ran for the Senate again in 1976. There were three Democrats running, including former governor, Warren Hearnes, and Jerry Litton, a congressman from Chillicothe who tragically died with his family in a plane crash after he won the primary. Many thought that Litton, a rising political star, had a chance to be president someday. Danforth easily beat Warren Hearnes after he served two full terms as the state’s lawyer and served in the Senate until 1995.

An interesting side note is that Jack Danforth had three men on his staff as attorney general who ascended to higher office: Kit Bond, John Ashcroft and Clarence Thomas, who later became a Supreme Court justice.