Governor can do mischief in lame-duck role

Sunday, August 22, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After his stunning loss in the Democratic primary, Gov. Bob Holden has several months left in office and precious little to do.

Without a political campaign to run, or the motivation to prepare for another legislative session, there is at least a potential for mischief.

Just a week ago, Holden appointed a longtime friend in the Senate to a lucrative job -- including a hefty retirement package -- on the state labor commission.

Ken Jacob's salary went from about $33,000 as a senator to $95,000 at the commission. His retirement package rose from nearly $29,000 a year to more than $47,000 a year, even if the Senate ultimately does not confirm him, or he leaves the job before a vote occurs.

The man Jacob replaced had served for just two weeks but is entitled to a $27,000 annual pension. Two Republican state senators say they plan to push legislation next year to change the structuring of that retirement plan.

"A lame-duck term of this length increases the potential for executive mischief and partisan mischief," said George Connor, an associate professor of political science at Southwest Missouri State University. "As a taxpayer, I hope none of that happens."

It has before, though, in other lame-duck situations.

President Clinton pardoned 177 people on his final day in office. When President Bush took office, many aides in an office building adjacent to the White House discovered their computer keyboards were missing the "W" key. Some were found atop door frames.

Then there was Illinois' former Gov. George Ryan, who commuted the death sentences of everyone on death row -- 167 people -- before he left office last year, saying the justice system was unfair.

Holden hasn't appeared in public much since losing the Aug. 3 primary to state Auditor Claire McCaskill. He was out of state last week, even missing the annual Governor's Country Ham Breakfast at the state fair, a traditional stop for politicians. Holden's office said he was vacationing with his family in Florida.

Many other boards and commissions also have openings -- although few are as lucrative as the labor commission -- and Holden also has the power to make judicial appointments.

A judge on the Missouri Supreme Court left to join a federal appeals court. A panel will consider candidates to fill his spot and submit a list of three finalists around Labor Day to the governor, who has the final say. Several circuit court judgeships also need to be filled, and Holden has not said if or when he might appoint those people.

Holden also could call legislators into special session if he wanted to cut into their time on the campaign trail. Last year, he called special sessions to try to get more money for the state budget, to no avail. This year, he signed the budget, but another reason could crop up.

Holden also could take action without going through the Legislature, by issuing executive order -- something he has done in the past.

One order Holden signed three years ago is still in dispute. During the summer of 2001, he granted collective bargaining rights to thousands of state workers. The battle over an administrative rule to allow collection of union dues from employees who don't join the union is tied up in court.

But some find it unlikely that Holden will make waves as his term winds down.

"Governor Holden will want to do as little as possible during the August to November time that would turn off voters from voting for Claire McCaskill," said Rick Althaus, a political science professor at Southeast Missouri State University. "If he's at all concerned about legacy and politics, he'll want to not do anything to jeopardize the chances of Claire McCaskill and other statewide Democratic candidates."

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