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Q&A with Rich Finneran, Missouri attorney general candidate

Rich Finneran is one of two candidates Missouri voters can choose from in the Democratic primary for attorney general on Aug. 4. Finneran is a former assistant U.S. attorney in St. Louis and currently teaches at Washington University while working in private practice.

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

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

RF: My first priority is protecting health care, including coverage for pre-existing conditions, by ending Missouri’s involvement in the federal lawsuit to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. Second is criminal justice: I will address the inequities of our system head-on and ensure the law is enforced fairly and equally for all. Third, I’ll take on corruption to make sure the Attorney General’s Office benefits the people, not politicians or the well-connected.

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

RF: As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen the failings of our criminal justice system up close. Drawing on that experience, I would create a culture of accountability at the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. My Attorney General’s Office will practice what it preaches: We’ll be smart on crime, not just tough on crime. I’ll work with local police departments and prosecutors across the state to develop and implement needed reforms to bridge the divide between our law enforcement and the communities they serve.

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?

RF: The homicide rate in Missouri, particularly in our larger cities, is a serious problem that must be addressed. As attorney general, I will promote partnerships with the U.S. Department of Justice to increase the enforcement resources available to combat violent crime. But we cannot only focus on punishing homicides after the fact; we must also take steps to prevent such tragedies from happening in the first place. That means getting illegal guns off the streets, limiting access to firearms to those who have been convicted of domestic abuse, and taking other steps to eliminate the underlying causes that contribute to rising rates of violent crime. 

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

RF: Missouri’s attorney general already has the authority to become involved in cases when a local prosecutor is conflicted or requests the assistance of the attorney general. What Missouri needs is an attorney general with the experience to work collaboratively with local prosecutors, not against them. Even if the legislature sees fit to expand the attorney general’s jurisdiction, that is how I will employ that power. No matter what, our efforts should focus on marshaling the resources of the state, the federal government, and local authorities to promote our shared goal of improving public safety. 

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

RF: Eric Schmitt’s China lawsuit has no chance of success and is a waste of time and money. Missouri taxpayers will never see a dime from the Chinese government, but Eric Schmitt has nonetheless spent countless hours and taxpayer dollars pursuing it. As attorney general, I will dedicate the resources of my office to protecting the people of the state, not wasting their hard-earned money taxpayers on publicity stunts. 

 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? 

RF: Under the current administration, the solicitor general has worked in the service of a partisan political agenda. That ends when I’m attorney general. My solicitor general will not advance hopeless legal arguments just so I can appear on cable news programs. The solicitor general’s job is to advocate for the people, not his boss’s future political career. My solicitor general will defend the constitutional rights of the people of Missouri and will not advocate for policies that do more harm than good for the people of our state.

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? 

RF: The Attorney General’s Office in Missouri works best when it supports local prosecutors instead of trying to undermine them on cable news. My goal in working with all local prosecutors is to create a collaborative relationship that keeps our communities safe and ensures a fair and equitable legal process. I am confident that I will be able to work with Ms. Gardner and other local prosecutors to promote best practices and increase their offices’ ability to protect the people of our state.

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?

RF: I do not believe that a wholesale defunding of police departments is likely to solve the problems in our criminal justice system. Instead, we should look at these issues holistically and develop solutions that address the root causes of our problems. My experience as a federal prosecutor will be a significant asset in that effort. Much like U.S. Congresswoman Val Demings’s background as a police chief has made her a credible voice for reform within the law enforcement community, my background in the criminal justice system will empower me to help reform it.

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

RF: One area in which our attorney general has made progress is processing the backlog of rape kits in Missouri. Too many victims have been waiting for closure and justice, and the testing of rape kits is the first step in that process. Still, thousands remain untested. I will work to eliminate the backlog entirely and assist local prosecutors in obtaining the resources they need to pursue prosecutions of rapists and other sex offenders. 

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? 

RF: Missouri needs an attorney general who approaches the law as something to be respected, not bent to serve a political agenda. That means being unafraid to challenge the powerful and well-connected, regardless of political affiliation. Only when Missouri has a truly independent attorney general, who will put the facts first and politics to the side, can we hope to restore the integrity of the office.

Bonus question: What is your favorite restaurant in Missouri? 

RF: I’ve eaten at many amazing restaurants all around Missouri over the years, but nothing feels more like home than a BLT and a hot fudge malted at Crown Candy Kitchen in North St. Louis.

For more 2020 election coverage, click here.