Nixon to stay mum on prosecutor pick until announcement

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gov. Jay Nixon won't be publicly discussing the Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney vacancy, a spokesman said Wednesday, until he knows who will fill it.

In an emailed response to questions, longtime Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said that he understands the continued interest in the process, but that no additional comment from the governor -- or his office -- would be forthcoming. Holste then offered a reminder of what was said after longtime prosecutor Morley Swingle announced that he was stepping down to take a job with the U.S. attorney's office.

"The prosecuting attorney plays a vital role in protecting public safety," Holste said. "The governor's office will move to fill this position as quickly as possible with a well-qualified person."

So far, three Republican lawyers -- Allen Moss, Chris Limbaugh and Frank Miller -- have staked a claim on the job Swingle held longer than any other person. One Democrat, Bryan Greaser, expressed interest but noted it's tempered by what he sees as a lack of job stability beyond the next election in GOP-heavy Cape Girardeau County. Greaser said Wednesday he had yet to make a decision.

Republicans opted out of the process earlier this week, deciding to offer no names of recommendation to Nixon. Doing so, they said, might fracture the party if a Democrat is selected -- as Nixon has done in 14 out of 14 opportunities -- creating an awkward decision in two years about who they should back.

The Democratic Central Committee intends to discuss the matter at its Nov. 27 meeting.

Swingle, whose last official day is Friday, said he is not worried in the least about Nixon making the right call. Swingle has submitted names to the governor's office that includes individuals from both parties. Swingle, as much as anyone, wants to see a well-qualified person take over the office, he said.

But, whether it's a Democrat or Republican, Swingle maintained full confidence in Nixon, an old law-school classmate.

"We are so fortunate that Jay Nixon is the governor," said Swingle, who ran as a Republican in every election.

Nixon, Missouri's former attorney general, would never put party above qualifications, Swingle said. Ted Ardini, who serves as counsel to the governor, is the former head of the attorney general's special prosecutor's division, a job that sent him around the state to try cases.

"Ted knows a good prosecutor when he sees one and he knows the importance of having a good prosecutor," Swingle said. "So I really am confident they are going to find a good person and talk that person into taking it."

Nixon and his staff also are going to consider the demographics of the county, Swingle said, and the prosecutor refuses to believe that Nixon would set up any lawyer to fail. Also, Swingle said that Nixon has always been a friend to law enforcement and Swingle views chief prosecutors as such a position.

Because, Swingle said, being prosecutor is only political once every four years and only then outside of a courtroom.

"A good prosecutor who is being true to the job doesn't let politics affect any decision he makes," Swingle said.

Still, several questions remain, such as how long until a selection is made and what process candidates will go through. With Nixon staying mum, several of his appointees offered insights that suggest it will happen along lines typical to many hiring processes. Four reached by the Southeast Missourian on Wednesday gave time frames ranging from four to six weeks and were interviewed by staff lawyers in Jefferson City. Each of them, all Democrats, said that they believe that Nixon would put party aside for a position vital to public safety.

Kellie Wingate Campbell was the first prosecuting attorney appointed by Nixon when he gave her the Lafayette County position in 2009. She said that after she expressed interest to her party's central committee, she filled out a 10-page application that was similar to the one filled out by all applicants to state boards and commissions.

Campbell was beckoned to Jefferson City where she was interviewed by Ardini, the aforementioned lawyer from Nixon's office. She remembers that was during severe ice storms that demanded much of the governor's attention. Still, she said Wednesday, she believes the process took no more than six weeks.

And Campbell understands all too well, she said, the worry of leaving the private sector for a job that is left in the hands of sometimes fickle voters.

"Any time you are appointed or elected to a position, your job security relies on other factors," she said. "You just have to decide if it's worth it. It has been to me. I find it satisfying to work with victims and the sense that I get from being a prosecutor."

smoyers@semissourian.com

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