Local GOP opts to not endorse any candidate for open prosecutor post

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The local GOP faithful are keeping their legal opinions to themselves.

With three more candidates coming forward Monday -- including the first Democrat -- the Cape Girardeau County Republican Central Committee on Monday night voted not to make official recommendations to Gov. Jay Nixon as he deliberates the county's next prosecuting attorney.

Several at the meeting suggested to do so would be an effort in futility, considering it seemed highly unlikely the Democratic governor would break with his history -- or the ranks of his party -- when he makes his decision. Others reasoned that offering names to Nixon now only to see him appoint a lawyer from the opposition could only divide their ranks in the regular election in 2014.

"He doesn't want our help and he doesn't need our help," said Kathy Swan, a Cape Girardeau City Council member recently elected as a Republican to the Missouri House. "I see no particular advantage for sending him names since I am 99.999 percent sure he is going to appoint a Democrat."

The committee voted 23-9 at its meeting to stay out of the debate after hearing from the three lawyers from the GOP who say they want the job. Jackson lawyer Allen Moss entered the contest last week, and two others said they also want the job -- assistant prosecutor Frank Miller, who has worked for more than a year under Morley Swingle; and Christopher Limbaugh, who is 18 months out of law school but benefits from a name synonymous with the legal profession and conservative politics.

Democrat Bryan Greaser, who has practiced law here for about 15 years, also acknowledged he is considering applying for the job.

"You can do so much good as a prosecuting attorney, and that's a large appeal to me," Greaser said. "I'd love to do my best to administer healthy justice no matter what it is and what it takes. I think I could do a lot of good in the prosecutor's position."

Still, Greaser said if he applies it would be despite his party affiliation, not because of it. Greaser took his practice solo three years ago, and he worries about a faceoff against a Republican in two years that could leave him out of a job.

"You can't ignore the elephant in the corner," Greaser said. "The fact is that the county is so heavily Republican, it is a heck of a task to ask a Democrat to run for elected office in this county. So, yes, that's a huge obstacle."

Republicans on Monday night spoke with confidence about their chances in 2014, and seemed resigned to a Democrat running the prosecutor's office for the first time since Bill Burlison in the 1960s.

All three of the Republicans said they intend to submit applications to Nixon, who by law makes the choice but has yet to offer a timeline. The governor's office was off on Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Limbaugh, 28, has worked at the Limbaugh Law Firm since he joined the Missouri Bar in April 2011. If he's appointed, Limbaugh would join his father and grandfather, who each served as the county prosecutor here before launching impressive legal careers. Limbaugh is the son of Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., a federal judge and former chief justice on the Missouri Supreme Court who was county prosecutor in the 1970s. His grandfather, Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., was also a prosecutor in the 1950s before becoming a U.S. District Judge.

Limbaugh said he didn't regard his age as a factor, noting that his father and grandfather both were in their 20s when they had the job.

Miller, a former lawyer and legal assistant for U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, has worked under Swingle since early 2010. He pointed to his prosecutorial experience with his 100 contested bench trials, 10 jury trials and 47 search warrants under his direction.

Miller presented himself as a "fair but aggressive prosecutor."

Moss, a former prosecutor under Swingle, said he would "change the culture" at the office, with an example that he would not put drug dealers on probation by sending them to drug court. He also would emphasize training of law enforcement, he said.

The Democrats are planning their meeting to discuss recommendations at their regular monthly meeting on Nov. 27. Democratic Central Committee chairman Mike Masterson said he thought they had enough time.

He acknowledges that it will be tough for a Democrat to get elected, but he wishes more people would realize the job is not as political as others.

"Whether you're liberal, conservative, to me this job isn't about those things," Masterson said. "It's about upholding the law. Don't both parties believe in that?"

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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