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Politically Speaking: Hensley on her bid to become Missouri's next attorney general

Teresa Hensley
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome attorney general hopeful Teresa Hensley to the program for the first time.

The former Cass County prosecutor is one of two Democratic candidates running for attorney general. Her opponent, St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman, appeared on Politically Speaking last year. Two Republicans – state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and law professor Josh Hawley — are also seeking the post currently held by Attorney General Chris Koster, who is running for governor.

Hensley’s appearance on the show also marks a big milestone for us: We’ve now hosted every major candidate for Missouri’s five statewide offices.  We’re planning on having more state and local contenders for office in the coming weeks leading up to the Aug. 2 primary.

A native of Peculiar, Mo., Hensley spent a number of years in private practice before Gov. Bob Holden appointed her as Cass County prosecutor in 2005.  She replaced Koster, who had just won a seat (as a Republican) to the Missouri Senate.

Hensley spent roughly a decade as Cass County prosecutor, and successfully prosecuted a number of high-profile murder cases.

In 2012, Hensley challenged U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, to represent the 4th Congressional District, which includes swaths of western and central Missouri.

Even though 2012 was a fairly good year for Democrats, Hartzler won re-election by a wide margin. Two years later, Hensley lost re-election as Cass County prosecutor.

Hensley entered the Democratic attorney general’s race soon after state Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, bowed out of the contest.She’s received a number of key endorsements, including Sifton and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

Here’s what Hensley had to say during the show:

  • Hensley has no regrets about taking on Hartzler. “I took on the 2012 race because I believe that it needed a strong Democrat,” she said. “You can’t let races like that and someone like Vicky Hartzler go unanswered.”
  • She said her experience as a county prosecutor will allow her to perform well as attorney general. “We make a change and difference in people’s lives, both the people that we charge and the victims that we are protecting,” Hensley said.
  • She disputes some rivals' views of what the attorney general should do. She says the post's chief job is as a prosecutor. "In the last 30-60 days, the attorney general's office has done things like prosecute Medicaid fraud and tax fraud and consumer scams, and two murder cases and a child sex-abuse case."
  • Hensley said she would want to establish a task force to look at creating a “gun docket” that allows judges to focus on defendants accused of gun crimes. Koster has strongly supported that idea, but it has faced criticism from judges in St. Louis.
  • When asked about how she would defend state laws (such as abortion restrictions) that she personally disagrees with, Hensley replied: “The attorney general’s office is there to first and foremost enforce the law,” she said. “And I think as attorney general, you do have to set aside your personal feelings to enforce the law and do the right thing.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Teresa Hensley on Twitter: @VoteHensley

Music: “Slide” by the Goo Goo Dolls

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.