Two attorney general candidates visit area

Thursday, January 3, 2008

State lawmakers seeking to step into the attorney general's office are using the last week before the Missouri Legislature convenes to hit the road in search of support.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, and state Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis, made separate visits to the Southeast Missourian to explain their programs while on their way to other appointments.

Gibbons, who has no major GOP opposition so far, said voters tell him they are most concerned about illegal immigration and property taxes. Both issues will come up in the legislative session.

Gibbons said he supports a proposal to make it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek licenses and efforts to make employers liable for knowingly employing illegal immigrants. He is sponsoring a bill to force school districts and other local governments to cut property taxes after reassessment.

Gibbons also said he wants to improve the office's support for local prosecutors and promised to refrain from taking campaign contributions from any person or business under investigation by the attorney general's office.

Donnelly promised she will be a strong advocate for consumers, and has sponsored a bill to make product recalls mandatory in the wake of problems with Chinese imports that contain toxic chemicals. She also said she will work to rein in predatory lenders, including payday loan businesses, and increase the office's focus on enforcing the Missouri Sunshine Law, seeking increased penalties for violators and providing more help to citizens seeking access to government records.

Filing won't open for state offices until late February. But Gibbons and Donnelly have been campaigning for months for the job that will be vacated by Jay Nixon, a Democrat planning to challenge Republican Gov. Matt Blunt's bid for re-election.

While Gibbons has clear sailing so far to the August primary, Donnelly is battling two fellow lawmakers, Sen. Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, and state Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, for her party's nomination. Koster has a substantial lead in fundraising, but must return $373,000 in contributions accepted while a law repealing donation limits was in effect. Donnelly said she's pleased by the support she's receiving and will report having more than $500,000 on hand as of Jan. 1.

On the issues

As attorney general, Gibbons said he will be careful about asking for more powers to initiate prosecutions. Most state enforcement is correctly in the hands of local prosecutors, he said, and he plans to "work with them to give them the resources necessary to do their job."

On illegal immigration, he said voters expect state officials to take steps to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses. Efforts to punish employers, he said, must make sure that the employers were "actively engaged" in the effort to hire illegals. But when proven, he said, "they ought to lose tax credits or any benefit the public provides."

On property taxes, Gibbons said changes are needed because when property values rise, "it is pretty easy to get a tax increase in through the back door."

Donnelly said voters should judge candidates for attorney general the way they would consider choices for a personal attorney. The attorney general is the consumer's advocate under state law, she said, and that chore is one she would pursue vigorously. "The threats to consumers range from every possible problem on the Internet to dishonest businesses."The state doesn't require retailers with unsold products that are subject to recall to clear their shelves of the goods, she said. The requirements for posting notices about recalls should also be strengthened, Donnelly said.

Donnelly is suing the Missouri Ethics Commission to force open hearings for candidates who claim a hardship in order to keep donations accepted during the period when limits were not in place. She said that proves her commitment to the Sunshine Law. She promised vigorous enforcement and a push to impose a tougher standard on officials who seek to circumvent the law.

"It is important to keep government open," she said. "Citizens are tired of government behind closed doors."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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