JEFFERSON CITY - U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft returned to the state capital Wednesday for the first time since he joined the Bush administration in 2001.
Ashcroft took his staff on a surprise tour of the Missouri Capitol while he was in town to speak to the state's business leaders.
"What a delight it is to be back in the capital," the former governor said in remarks to members of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Ashcroft told reporters he spent some of his best years in Missouri state government. In 1973, he was appointed to complete a term as state auditor. Since then, he has served as Missouri's attorney general, governor and U.S. senator.
When Ashcroft arrived in Jefferson City Wednesday morning, he introduced his staff to the Capitol, making stops in the House and Senate chambers as well as the House Lounge to show off Thomas Hart Benton's murals depicting the history of Missouri.
"To visit Jefferson City brings back this rush of memories," Ashcroft said. "Of course, nothing is the same." Then he paused. "I mean, some things are the same, some people are the same," he said to laughter from Missouri Chamber members, "but Jeff City has changed."
In his words to the Missouri Chamber, Ashcroft spoke of Sept. 11 and the results of terrorism.
"Terrorists sought to divide the world by hate and oppression, but frankly they helped unite us," Ashcroft said.
He also talked about corruption in government and corporations. Ashcroft said corruption is an economic and security concern that must be investigated, prosecuted and prevented.
"Just as we cannot wait for the next terrorist to strike, we must not wait for the next bribe to be paid or the next stock to be shorted before moving to stop future corrupt activity," he said.
The Missouri Chamber invited Ashcroft to speak because of his support of and relationship with the chamber during his time in state government, said Karen Buschmann, vice president of communications for the Missouri Chamber. Buschmann said terrorism has had an impact on the economy, and Ashcroft's work as U.S. attorney general impacts employers, so his presence was relevant.
But not all Missourians support what Ashcroft has done since leaving Missouri. About a dozen Missourians from Jefferson City and Columbia protested the Patriot Act outside the Capitol Plaza Hotel, where Ashcroft spoke.
Ruth Schaefer, 55, of New Bloomfield, said the United States can be kept safe from terrorism without eroding freedoms, which the Patriot Act does.
The Patriot Act, passed after Sept. 11, gives the government broader powers to investigate people with the goal of preventing terrorism.
"I don't think we're going to change Mr. Ashcroft's mind, but I want to encourage people to ask questions," Schaefer said. But she said the signs probably caught the attention of many other people.
Schaefer said she is OK with Missouri's Chamber inviting Ashcroft to speak.