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Democratic lawmakers and crime fighters target Ashcroft ad

August 31, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Democratic lawmakers, police officers and prosecutors Thursday refuted a John Ashcroft campaign ad depicting Gov. Mel Carnahan as failing in the fight against methamphetamine.

Calling the ad dishonest, Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, trumpeted a law passed under Carnahan, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, as evidence the governor's attempts to combat the drug are anything but soft.

"Other than the names of the men running for senator, nothing else is true in the ad," Hosmer said in a news conference at the Capitol.

The Republican incumbent's ad, which runs throughout the state, says Carnahan repeatedly denied money for new police officers to fight meth, opposed police funding for communities struggling with the drug, and backed weak laws letting dealers with "100 hits" of meth avoid prison.

The prosecutors praised the 1998 law as one of the toughest in the nation. The measure, which passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, increased penalties for possessing or making the drug and lowered the amount required for a felony charge.

Ashcroft spokesman David James said the campaign will not pull the ad.

"The news conference is a transparent political effort by Democratic politicians to cover up for Mel Carnahan's failure to deal with Missouri's meth crisis," he said. "Our ad is accurate in all respects."

James said Missouri had over 900 meth lab busts in 1999, second in the nation to California.

The Democratic prosecutors said the word "hits" used in the ad has no legal significance, indicating the Ashcroft camp was misinformed. They said charges are doled out based on the weight of the drug possessed, not in the way it is packaged.

"The language of the ad is a mystery to me," said Riley Bock, New Madrid County Prosecutor.

James said the dispute over the ad's wording is an attempt to divert attention away from the real issue.

Hosmer, who sponsored the 1998 law, stopped short of saying Ashcroft lied, but he said the ad was "dishonest." Others were not as light on the senator.

"If you give (Ashcroft) the benefit of the doubt on everything in the ad, they're misinformed," said Dwight Scroggins, Buchanan County Prosecutor.

Missouri is among the nation's leaders in meth production. The drug's popularity has risen dramatically over the last ten years because of its long high and the ease of its manufacture. It is made from readily-available ingredients: ammonia, ephedrine (found in cold medicine), and ether.

The prosecutors said the persistence of meth troubles in the state is not evidence that more could have been done during Carnahan's administration.

"You have to give the bill time to work," said Bock, whose county is one of the state's meth hot spots. "I can't think of anymore legislative work that needs to be done."

Bock said Congress could help by requiring all pharmacies to put cold medicines behind the counter, but doing that at the state level, he said, would just send meth producers across state lines to buy ingredients.

Two Republican prosecutors not attending the conference had different views of Missouri's meth laws passed under Carnahan.

One, Robert Seek of Miller County, said penalties needed to be tougher for people caught with large amounts. The other, Todd Graves of Platte County, also the GOP candidate for state treasurer, said meth dealers usually don't have large amounts of the drug at one time, so penalties should be harsher for smaller stashes.