As Peter Lee, Stockton, looks ahead to the Nov. 8 general election, he’s not wasting any time as he puts the Aug. 2 primary race behind himself in the rearview mirror.
“Being a judge is kind of where I always saw myself at the end of my career, and that’s why I ran for judge in the primary,” Lee said.
But last weekend, Lee announced that after much prayer and thought with his family and friends, he’s now taking on a more unconventional route by running a write-in campaign for the position of Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney.
Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney incumbent Ty Gaither — with a criminal defense background and eight years of experience as Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney — narrowly defeated Michael Tighe in the primary by less than 100 votes.
Lee said that he hadn’t been thinking of running for the prosecutor’s position in the Nov. 8 general election. But on Aug. 1, he was personally asked by somebody in the community if he was planning on running a write-in campaign for prosecutor in the general November election.
“After the primary results came in, it got me wondering,” Lee said. “As I also thought back to my campaign in the primary, and I realized that when I was campaigning for judge, I received more questions about the prosecutor’s position than judge.”
Lee said that in his view, the biggest concern held by community members he visited during his primary campaign was mostly about the position of prosecuting attorney. He said that many community members expressed concern about offenders not spending full sentences in jail and getting out on parole seemingly quickly.
“Not all of the decisions that are made in the criminal justice process are on the prosecutor,” Lee said. “There are lots of pieces to that puzzle, but the prosecutor has a great deal of influence in the process. Even though some of the decisions are outside of the prosecutor’s control, they are not outside his influence, though.”
Lee said that if elected as prosecuting attorney in November, there’s “more that can be done” regarding criminal justice in the county — but that change can’t all necessarily happen here.
Alex Masters, an El Do man facing a felony murder charge for the Oct. 2021 death of Johnny Billings in Cedar County, is one example Lee pointed toward in his vision as prosecuting attorney.
Masters had originally been sentenced to the Missouri Department of Corrections two or three years ago to serve a 14-year sentence. He was released from the Department of Corrections after 11 months. While he was out on parole in Cedar County, he allegedly was paid in meth to murder Billings.
One of the facts that came out in the primary was that the Department of Corrections had requested funding for two more prisons, funding which has yet to be approved.
Lee said that more legislative funding on the state’s level will help Missouri’s problem of overcrowding in prisons. More action and communication with Jefferson City from the county’s end will help chip away at this problem, he added.
“It would be great if all of the citizens here could contact their representatives and tell them to get more funding for the prison system. However, the prosecuting attorney has the ability to explain to our elected officials in Jefferson City first-hand about the problems that are occurring in our county due to decisions made in Jefferson City,” Lee noted. “My concern is going forward, if we don’t do something to advocate for a different outcome on that issue in Jefferson City, the door is wide open for more situations (like Alexander Masters) to occur here. … We need somebody to be a persistent voice and an advocate.”
Another priority, Lee said, would be to communicate with the public and law enforcement regarding ongoing criminal issues and progress.
If elected, Lee said he’ll want to have regular communication with law enforcement and the public, including sitting down with law enforcement on a regular basis and receiving feedback from them to be effective in "creating a safer environment here. "
“One of the things you learn in public service is that the decisions you make are only as good as the information they are based on,” Lee said. “The public needs to know what is being done by the prosecutor to keep the community safe, and the prosecutor needs to get feedback from the public about whether those efforts are having an effect in the community.”
“I want the public to feel free to set up a time to come into my office and express their concerns,” Lee said. “The prosecutor’s office is not an ivory tower. The prosecutor is the advocate for the public and for the victim.”
Gaither’s first public response to Lee’s announcement on social media was to imply Lee had eschewed the principles and platform of the Republican party for political expediency. hen asked about that statement, Lee responded “I’m the same person today as I was 6 months ago. My values haven’t changed, and my desire to use my experience to do something better for Cedar County has only increased.”
As a write-in candidate, Lee’s name will not be on the November 8th ballot, but it will be up to the voters to write his name down and fill in the oval for their votes to be counted.