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Q&A with Elad Gross, Missouri attorney general candidate

  

Elad Gross, a St. Louis attorney, is one of two candidates Missouri voters can choose from in the Democratic primary for attorney general on Aug. 4. Gross is a former assistant attorney general and an advocate for greater transparency laws.

Ahead of the election, we asked Gross and his opponent, Rich Finneran, 10 questions. Get to know Gross below.


TMT: What are your top three goals to accomplish as Missouri’s attorney general?

EG: We need to get Missouri’s government working for us, and that means bringing several changes to the Attorney General’s Office.

  1. Implementing Missouri’s first Civil Rights Division. The division will bring accountability to our government, uphold our constitutional protections, enforce our privacy and health care rights, reform our justice system, and protect workers on the job. In conjunction with my diversity and inclusion plan, we will increase opportunities for all Missourians.
  2. Coordinating Missouri’s first statewide effort to reduce and prevent violent crime. Homicides are spiking all over Missouri. Last year, one of my students was shot and killed in his backyard the day before he was supposed to start second grade. As attorney general, I will lead a coordinated effort to focus on violent crime, invest in our too-often-ignored communities, and protect our kids.
  3. Prosecuting corruption in our state government. We need officials who are here for us, not pretenders who are willing to sell out our state to the highest bidder. As attorney general, I will fight the influence of hidden dark money in our elections, and I will lead the strongest Public Corruption Division in Missouri’s history.

I have several full plans available at www.eladgross.org/solutions

TMT: Criminal justice reform has been a particularly hot topic this year. As Missouri’s attorney general, how would you tackle criminal justice reform?

EG: We need accountability in our justice system. My Civil Rights Division will provide improved training, offer assistance to folks staffing the justice system, and sue institutions that violate our rights. I will focus on preventing civil rights violations.

I will also work with law enforcement, community organizations, and state agencies to reduce and prevent violent crime. We must focus on reducing homicides and stabilizing our neighborhoods. That includes supporting programs that hire local residents to mediate local conflicts before law enforcement needs to be involved. As attorney general, I will lead Missouri’s first statewide coordinated effort to reduce violent crime.

My office will help circuits develop diversion courts, including drug courts and veterans courts, so we can get more Missourians the help they need instead of incarcerating so many of our community members. I will also help develop conviction review units to make sure that people who are in prison ought to be there. I will end our current attorney general’s practice of keeping innocent people behind bars.

I will fully enforce Missouri’s Sunshine Law. We need transparency in our government and that includes in our justice system.

My approach to justice reform will engage community members in our efforts. I’ve already started Our Missouri Justice Initiative to collect input from Missourians of all backgrounds, and I will make community engagement a priority at the Attorney General’s Office.

I will also be an advocate at our state legislature. I support treating substance abuse as a public health issue, legalizing cannabis, using tax proceeds to invest directly into the communities decimated by the drug war, and expunging many records when it comes to nonviolent possession charges. We also need to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to get all of our kids the support they deserve.

TMT: The General Assembly is currently convening to tackle legislation related to violent crime in Missouri. What do you believe needs to be done to address the homicides in Missouri? What would you do as the attorney general to ramp down on that? 

EG: I have a full plan to deal with homicides at www.eladgross.org/solutions. We need a statewide coordinated effort to take on this challenge. 

Most homicides are committed by very few people. We need a focused effort to identify those most at-risk to commit violence, set expectations, offer opportunities, and prosecute when people commit violence anyway. We need to improve access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment. As attorney general, I will fight to ensure better access to affordable health care, and I will make sure that any settlement Missouri makes with opioid manufacturers provides much-needed direct services to Missourians.

As attorney general, I will also support the use of community mediation programs that hire Missourians to prevent violence in their neighborhoods. These folks identify conflicts and work to calm participants without involving law enforcement. These programs create jobs and decrease violence.

We also need improved witness protection resources. Many Missourians who have witnessed crimes are terrified of coming forward. We need to make that process much safer.

As attorney general, I will advocate for increased investment in our communities that are most in need. We cannot keep ignoring the root causes of crime and the poverty that has devastated so many parts of our state. We must invest in our people, not in more prisons.

TMT: What are your thoughts on the concurrent jurisdiction proposal on the table in the General Assembly? 

EG: I do not support removing local control over criminal justice from all of our communities. The attorney general has an important role to play in dealing with crime, but every locality has different needs. I do not support creating a statewide prosecutor in Missouri and taking power away from local communities to determine their own priorities.

The attorney general can already support prosecutions throughout the state. We just need an attorney general who is more interested in fixing the problem and less interested in getting on cable TV.

TMT: What is your take on the China lawsuit Attorney General Eric Schmitt initiated? How would you have handled the situation? 

EG: I believe wrongdoers should be held accountable, but this lawsuit will do nothing. The lawsuit against China is a sham perpetrated on the public that will cost plenty of taxpayer money just to get our appointed attorney general on Tucker Carlson so he can begin his run for the next office. Lawyers of all political persuasions agree. I’m sick of politicians lying to the public. We have federal laws that prohibit the attorney general from proceeding with this lawsuit, and either he knows that and doesn’t care about wasting taxpayer resources, or he doesn’t and shouldn’t be anywhere near a courtroom. Foreign policy is the president’s job. If our attorney general doesn’t like how the president is doing his job, he should run against the president.

I proposed several plans related to the COVID-19 crisis. Our attorney general needs to focus on enforcing our consumer protection laws to prevent scams, especially when it comes to medical and personal protective equipment. He should have focused on protecting our right to vote safely during the pandemic. And he should have protected workers, including those who suffered delays in getting unemployment benefits and those who worked for meat processing plants, like China-owned Smithfield. Smithfield has been abusing workers, monopolizing agricultural production, and killing family farms. But Smithfield donates plenty of political money and avoided our attorney general’s attention. 

The next crisis on deck is housing. Many Missouri families are at risk of eviction. Some of these massive eviction court dockets are going on virtually, giving tenants even less recourse to plead their cases. Our attorney general needs to work with our court system to protect tenants’ rights. 

I also believe our government should organize a volunteer corps to help in our schools, health care facilities, and communities. During crises, Missourians step up to serve. We just need leaders willing to step up for us.

TMT: The past two Republican attorneys general have successfully weaponized their Solicitor General’s Office to make national headlines on key conservative issues. What key issues would you deploy your solicitor general to tackle? 

EG: I wouldn’t. The solicitor general shouldn’t be a political position. The solicitor general is there to handle appellate practice for the office. I will return integrity to that position.

TMT: The current attorney general and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner are openly feuding over a variety of issues, including the McCloskeys’ situation. If Kim Gardner wins her primary, how would you approach working with her? 

EG: Children are dying in St. Louis and all over our state. I would work with whomever the circuit attorney is to provide prosecutorial support to St. Louis City and implement a homicide prevention strategy.

The political fights may earn politicians five minutes on TV, but they do nothing to solve the problem.

TMT: The outcry and public protests from George Floyd’s death were very similar to other events that have occurred in past years in St. Louis. George Floyd’s death led to many national leaders calling for police departments to be defunded. Do you agree with that movement? And similarly, how would you use your office to bridge the divide between those who want to see police reform and those who unequivocally support law enforcement?

EG: I support looking at budgets annually to make sure we are putting taxpayer money to work. I very much support putting more resources into substance abuse treatment, mental health care, education, and other social services. I also support increased accountability in policing. In some places, that might require additional funding, especially for the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) program to improve discipline and training. I’ve also participated in a high-quality Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, which included communication, mental health, implicit bias, and de-escalation training, and I support expanding that opportunity in Missouri. I do not support abolishing police. Departments that do not take training seriously will be subject to investigations by my Civil Rights Division.

I’ve already spent a lot of time bringing folks from different perspectives together. The most important tool we have is our presence. We need an attorney general who shows up. I’ve participated in more than 560 events all over Missouri during this campaign. I’ve worked with law enforcement officers, prosecutors, public defenders, inmates, survivors, and parents who have lost children. We cannot let our divisions stop us from saving lives and making sure our public institutions work for the public.

We all want accountability. We want a fair system. We want to stop homicides and violent crime. We want to support law enforcement and protesters when they stand up to wrongdoing. We want this to work.

As attorney general, I will continue to show up all over our state. I will ask Missourians to take back our government. And I will make sure that every one of us who is ready to stand up for justice knows I’ve got their backs. It’s time to bring proven solutions and leadership to our civil rights crisis.

TMT: What is something you’ve thought the current attorney general has done well? How would you expand upon that work? 

EG: When our attorney general was first appointed, I appreciated his willingness to support justice reform, like his stand against debtors’ prisons. Unfortunately, he didn’t stand up all too long. I won’t just write briefs to courts supporting needed changes in our justice system. I’ll help make those changes happen. 

I will enact comprehensive ethics reforms in the Attorney General’s Office. I will end the practice of keeping innocent people in prison even after the evidence exonerates them. Our new Civil Rights Division will end so many of the inequities in our state, protect Missourians of all backgrounds, and make equal justice under the law a reality. 

I also appreciate how the current attorney general has highlighted the need for testing rape kits in Missouri. We have a huge backlog of them right now. I don’t think his pace of getting them tested has been fast enough. I would allocate many more resources to getting testing and justice underway.

TMT: What do you see as the greatest legal need in Missouri right now, and how would you use the office, if elected, to tackle that issue? 

EG: We have so much corruption in our government. Political ambitions and the promise of big campaign checks threaten to steal our democracy from us. Lots of folks look at the brokenness all around us and ask, “What’s the point of voting?”

Instead of improving access to affordable health care, our attorney general is trying to remove it with a lawsuit designed to end the Affordable Care Act and take health care coverage away from millions of Americans.

Instead of holding developers accountable when they defraud Missouri out of millions of dollars in tax credits, our attorney general lets his big donors off the hook.

Instead of protecting Missourians from payday lending scams, our attorney general is taking campaign contributions from predatory lenders.

Corruption is the reason why poor kids are in underserved schools, why hospitals are closing throughout rural Missouri, why maternal mortality rates are so high in our state, why scammers have taken over our phones. Our government’s priority isn’t us. It’s folks with money and power.

We need an anti-corruption attorney general who knows how the office works, who is prepared to do the hard work to get this turned around, and who will always work for us. As attorney general, I will prosecute corruption and bring accountability back to our state. I will use Missouri’s consumer protection laws to fight hidden dark money buying our government. I will protect our privacy from big corporations. I will prevent monopolists from eliminating competition in our economy, and I’ll stand up for our small businesses. I will protect all of our civil rights.

I will work every day to earn your trust, just like I have been my entire career, and we’ll get Missouri working for us again.

Bonus question: What is your favorite restaurant in Missouri? 

EG: Ma Vic’s Corner Cafe in Marceline!

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