JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Eric Schmitt’s catalyst for his role in public service, especially as the state’s attorney general, is his son.
Stephen was born in 2004 with a rare genetic condition — tuberous sclerosis — which causes tumors to develop on a person’s organs. For Stephen, tumors have grown on multiple organs, including his kidneys, heart, and brain. It’s the latter of those that has manifested the most challenges for Stephen, including seizures and epilepsy, Schmitt said.
When Stephen was just 2 years old, he endured a four hour seizure.
“I remember being in the emergency room, and there was nothing I could do, there was nothing I could do to stop it,” Schmitt recalled. Agonizingly, he watched the minute hands pivot around the clock on the wall. Doctors could only administer new medicine to help his son every 20 minutes. And with just one medication left to try before doctors would induce a coma, the seizure ended.
“That’s the most traumatic experience of my life. Going through that with Stephen and [wife] Jaime and upon some reflection, I just felt like there was something more I needed to do,” Schmitt told The Missouri Times from his office in the state Supreme Court building.
So Schmitt made the decision: There was nothing he could do to help his son during the medical emergency, but there was plenty to do to help others — especially the most vulnerable — in Missouri. He had to run for public office.
“Stephen, clearly, was this sort of touchstone for me — to this day — and gives me a lot of strength and perspective as to what’s really important,” Schmitt said. “Oftentimes in politics, it’s easy to get caught up in these news cycles and lose sight of the important things in life, and Stephen is a constant reminder not to take anything for granted. All these things are gifts, gifts from God.”
Schmitt, a lawyer, first entered public policy as the alderman for Glendale (about 10 miles west of St. Louis). He then successfully ran for state Senate in what was then the 15th district, a swing district, and served in the General Assembly for eight years.
Due to term limits, Schmitt couldn’t run for the Senate again so he set his sights on a statewide office, winning the election for state treasurer in 2017. With the resignation of Gov. Eric Greitens in 2018, shaking up Missouri’s executive branch, Schmitt was appointed the state’s chief legal officer and sworn in earlier this year.
Schmitt said he’s approached each job with a missive taught to him by his parents: “Always do everything with the maximum amount of effort.”
“When you’re entrusted with these types of positions, you owe it to people to give it everything you can — to be fair and open with your decisions and do everything you can to make the world better,” Schmitt said.
With a focus on the most vulnerable, on his son, Schmitt has undertaken a variety of projects as Missouri’s chief law enforcement officer to protect Missourians. Among those are:
- Safer Streets Initiative: Schmitt launched this program in January in St. Louis as an effort to combat violent crime in the state. The Attorney General’s Office partners its lawyers with the U.S. Attorneys Office to prosecute violent crimes as well as promotes community outreach.
- Real Opioid Pain Initiative: Schmitt has sued multiple pharmaceutical companies as attorney general to hold them accountable, alleging public nuisance and unjust enrichment. Although it was started by former Attorney General Josh Hawley, Schmitt has expanded the efforts. Additionally, his office has encouraged Missourians share their stories regarding opiates which could help with the lawsuits.
- SAFE Kit Initiative: The attorney general has often touted his office’s push to test the thousands of untested rape kits in the state to “honor the courage” of victims who have reported the heinous crimes. Aside from testing them, his office is establishing a protocol for how to handle the kits.
Additionally, Schmitt said his office is focused on making sure elderly and disabled Missourians aren’t being abused, cracking down on human trafficking, and supporting efforts to tear down abandoned buildings.
“There’s a lot to do, but I think the central vein is my job to protect Missourians as their attorney general, and that plays out in a number of different ways,” he said. “The rule of law is important. People deserve to be safe. Part of my role as attorney general, as the chief law enforcement officer of the state, is to do everything I can to protect people.”
Those who know Schmitt know he’s a history aficionado. And he’s certainly aware of the historical importance of the office he now holds. There was Edward Bates, Missouri’s first attorney general who went on to become the 26th U.S. Attorney General under President Abraham Lincoln. Then there’s Thomas Eagleton, the late U.S. senator; John Ashcroft, a U.S. senator and U.S. attorney general for former President George W. Bush; and Jay Nixon, Missouri’s last Democratic governor.
“As someone who growing up didn’t know any lawyers, to be the lawyer for six million Missourians as their attorney general is something I don’t take lightly,” Schmitt said.
“This office has a great tradition,” he continued. “There is a high standard. I want this office to be known for a high-degree of professionalism and undying support for the rule of law. I want to make sure [everyone] has a fair shake under the law, are treated equally under the law — no matter their race or religion or creed or zip code.”
Still, attorney general isn’t Schmitt’s most important job. Although he is Jefferson City for work most days, Jaime, Stephen, and his two young daughters still reside in the St. Louis area. Despite the distance, the family makes it work.
“We found a way to make it work and be present, and those are the most important things in life,” Schmitt said. “It’s something we’ve become accustomed to and will make it work. Jaime and I are on this mission together to make a difference.”
“The most important job I’ll ever have is being a husband to Jaime and a father to my three kids. Regardless of whatever position I have at the moment, that’s the most important job.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.