Attorney general faces little-known challenger Nov. 2

Sunday, October 3, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon is in his fourth campaign for the office he holds and, if victorious, would become the longest-serving attorney general in Missouri history.

Nixon, 48, said he takes his challenger seriously. But Nixon has not bothered to set up a campaign Web site; a machine answers the phone at his campaign office; and -- with about a month until the election -- he has run no television ads.

Chris Byrd, 36, of Kansas City, earned his law degree three years ago; this is his first run for public office. He said he's running for attorney general -- instead of a more traditional introductory role in public life as a legislator -- because he could have more influence by enforcing than writing the laws.

Byrd doesn't see his lack of experience as a lawyer as a problem, but acknowledged that overcoming Nixon's fund-raising advantage will be tough. As evidence of his qualifications, Byrd points to previous work in mortgage banking and at an auction firm, as well as his current job as a lawyer in the real estate and health-care fields.

"There's not too many topics that come up ... that I don't have a working knowledge of," Byrd said.

Campaign finance reports from Sept. 2, the latest available, indicate Nixon had raised more than $400,000 and still had about $328,000 on hand. Byrd, who had a primary opponent, had raised more than $78,000, had about $2,000 on hand with a $22,000 debt.

Nixon rattles off a list of accomplishments as attorney general, including a reduction in crime; establishing the state's No Call list; prosecuting people involved in Medicaid and worker's compensation fraud; and handling consumer complaints.

Byrd argues Nixon has not been aggressive enough in enforcing some of the state's laws, especially on sensitive issues such as abortion restrictions.

"I didn't feel we had an attorney general that was reflecting the views of the citizens of Missouri," he said. "I could just see loggerheads there between the creation of legislation and the enforcement of legislation."

Byrd also said Nixon is not doing enough to pursue parents who owe child support. The attorney general's office assumed responsibility for child support litigation in July 2003.

If elected attorney general, Byrd said he would help lawmakers write a bill imposing limits on personal injury lawsuits.

Nixon said he has worked hard to be independent, noting he both sued and represented Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt between May and August, fighting him on the timing of a gay marriage amendment election and defending him from a St. Louis lawsuit that claimed the state requires early voting. Nixon's position prevailed in both cases.

"No one complained about my representation on either side," he said. "It tells me that people perhaps think that I am able to divide properly the politics and the professionalism here."

Nixon said that while he's focused on this race, he hasn't ruled out another run for higher office. He twice ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate -- losing to Republican incumbents John Danforth in 1988 and Kit Bond in 1998. There are no term limits for attorney general, as there are for legislators and the governor.

When he completes his current term in January, Nixon will have tied Democrat Roy McKittrick as the longest-serving attorney general. McKittrick served from 1933-1945. But no attorney general has served four terms, as Nixon is seeking to do.

"I don't expect to be the 'eternal' general," Nixon said. "I'm sure there'll be other races, other times."

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