Like Pegasus, the winged stallion of Greek mythology, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is a hybrid. In Koster’s case, the cross-pollination is in his political rather than his genetic make-up.
Let’s start with the fact that Koster is the Democratic nominee for governor. He has been attorney general for eight years. Before that, he was a state senator for four years and Cass County prosecutor for ten. So, he’s well known and has wide name identity. His opponent, on the other hand, Eric Greitens, is a political newcomer who won the Republican primary partly by asserting his opposition to any tightening of gun-control legislation.
Today, however, in a move that has been expected, the National Rifle Association endorsed Koster, the Democrat, over Greitens, the Republican.
Expected, as I said, but extremely unusual. Probably unprecedented in Missouri.
And this development comes a few weeks on the heels of Koster becoming the first Democrat running for statewide office to get the endorsement of the Missouri Farm Bureau, another very conservative organization.
In actuality, Koster, an erstwhile Republican, is part Republican and part Democrat. And if you’re a Democrat living in Missouri, like I am, you’ve got to be wondering if you have anywhere to turn in the governor’s race. (More on that later, now back to Koster.)
To be sure, Koster has earned his hybrid status, and, if you look at his political background at arm’s length, you have to say he might be one of the shrewdest politicians to come along since Lyndon Johnson.
Here’s his “pre-political life” bio box:
Born and raised in St. Louis. Attended St. Louis University High School. Got a bachelor of arts degree from MU in Columbia in 1987. Got his law degree from MU four years later. Later got an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. Worked as an assistant attorney general in the Attorney General’s Office from 1991 to 1993. Practiced law with the Kansas City firm Blackwell Sanders from 1993 to 1994.
In 1994, he was a registered Republican, and ran for and won the race for Cass County prosecutor. He was re-elected by wide margins in 1998 and 2002. In 2004, he ran for a state senate seat and won.
Three years later he began the metamorphosis that has positioned him, in all likelihood, to win the governor’s race in November.
In 2007, he switched parties, saying the Missouri Republican Party had become “toxic” and too beholden to the extreme right-wing. “Today, Republican moderates are all but extinct,” he said.
The very next year, 2008, he announced he was running for Attorney General, and it was in that race that he showed just how cagey he can be. His main opponent for the Democratic nomination was state Rep. Margaret Donnelly. Another formidable candidate in the race was another state senator named Jeff Harris. But, out of the blue, another candidate entered the race — a total unknown — an eighth-grade teacher at St. Elizabeth Catholic School in Kansas City named Molly Williams.
Molly Williams, it turned out, was a plant. She was a friend and golf partner of a former Circuit Court judge named Joe Dandurand, a man who just happened to be a close associate and supporter of Koster.
Molly Williams wasn’t the first decoy candidate in politics by any means, but she might well have been one of the most effective.
When the votes were counted the night of Aug. 21, 2008, Koster had defeated Donnelly by a count of 118,934 to 118,105. Harris had 86,550 votes. And Molly Williams? The unknown candidate out of Kansas City — she didn’t lift a finger campaigning — drew a surprising 23,140 votes.
Had Molly Williams not been in the race, I think it’s safe to say enough of her votes would have gone to Donnelly to turn the race her way. After all, Molly Williams was the only other woman in the race.
In the general election, Koster sailed by Republican Mike Gibbons, with 53 percent of the vote.
Koster’s camp would not confirm or deny that Molly Williams was a plant, but five months before the primary, a Pitch writer named David Martin wrote a long story about the situation. In one of the more entertaining paragraphs in his story, Martin said:
Admittedly, the evidence against Koster wouldn’t hold up in court. But Molly Williams’ candidacy is too cheesy and appalling to ignore. Stunts like these are politicians’ ways of thrusting their middle fingers at the democratic process they claim, through capped teeth, to cherish.
I said earlier that Koster might be one of the shrewdest politicians since Lyndon Johnson. Like Johnson, however, Koster falls far short of my ideal politician — one who is truthful and genuine and puts the public interest above his (or her) personal aspirations and above special interests.
Such politicians, as we all know, are hard to find. Far too many are like Koster, an opportunist who seems to be willing to do or say whatever it takes to get elected to the office he’s eyeing. (In his Pitch story, Martin said at one point that some observers wondered if Koster “would have joined the Monarch Party if it increased his chances of being elected to a higher office.”)
In addition to being wily, Koster has been lucky: He has weathered several allegations of political impropriety, including that in one of his campaigns he laundered donations to avoid contribution limits. And, as I have written several times, he was a central figure in a 2014 New York Times investigation about several state attorneys general who were in the pockets of special interests. (If Greitens has any sense, he will spend several million dollars familiarizing voters with that story.)
So, where does this leave me, as well as other members of a shrinking group I’ll call “Genuine Missouri Democrats”?
Well, like a Pegasus, I’m going to wing it on Election Day. I’ll vote for whichever minor-party candidate on the ballot has the most appealing name…If there’s somebody named Williams on the ballot, I’ll definitely vote for him, or her.