Questions about how Lt. Gov. would be replaced

Sunday, January 6, 2013
Peter Kinder

If there is one question on the minds of Republican committee members when it comes to a nomination of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder to replace Jo Ann Emerson, it is: is it worth the risk?

Should the committee choose Kinder, who announced last week he is seeking the nomination to run in a special election for the 8th Congressional District, there does appear to be some risk involved. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon could appoint a replacement, and he may choose someone from his own party, leaving only one Republican, Auditor Tom Schweich, serving in a statewide office.

When asked how the lieutenant governor position would be filled if Kinder is nominated and wins a seat in Congress, Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Missouri governors twice have made appointments to fill the lieutenant governor's position.

Holste was referring to the two times Missouri governors have had to fill the lieutenant governor's office: first in 1969 when Thomas Eagleton resigned and Gov. Warren Hearnes appointed William S. Morris as Eagleton's replacement, and in 2000, when Roger Wilson assumed the governor's post upon the death of Mel Carnahan and appointed Joe Maxwell lieutenant governor. In the 2000 appointment, when Nixon was attorney general, he deemed legal Maxwell's appointment, according to press reports at the time, citing article 4, section 4 of the Missouri Constitution, which states the governor has the right to fill vacant statewide offices.

But a state statute seems to exempt the lieutenant governor's office from that rule. Chapter 105, section 105.030 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states: "Whenever any vacancy, caused in any manner or by any means whatsoever, occurs or exists in any state or county office originally filled by election of the people, other than in the offices of lieutenant governor, state senator or representative, sheriff, or recorder of deeds in the city of St. Louis, the vacancy shall be filled by appointment by the governor ..."

Jay Nixon

The lack of clarity surrounding the process could, if Kinder receives the nomination, turn into quite a political sideshow.

State Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, who is serving as Speaker Pro Tem in the upcoming session, has filed a bill for the fifth consecutive year that would change the process for filling a vacancy in statewide offices by requiring the governor to call a special election after appointing a temporary officeholder. House Speaker Tim Jones has said he will push for an override of any veto of the bill by Nixon, who has vetoed similar legislation.

Smith said the governor's veto of the bill was because of the estimated cost -- Nixon didn't want the law to lead to taxpayers being charged for a stand-alone special election when vacanies occurred. When special elections are combined with general elections, they cost less.

Smith has high hopes for the bill this time around -- Republicans have a majority in the state legislature and the bill's language has been changed so a special election would coincide with a general election.

Kinder, according to his spokesman, Jay Eastlick, favors Smith's proposed legislation.

Jason Smith

"Unfortunately, the statute does not clearly set out how such vacancies are to be filled," Eastlick said. "The law should be clarified, and Lt. Gov. Kinder supports any legislation that would give the authority to voters at the ballot box to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office, rather than give that authority to the governor."

Smith's proposal, ironically, could lend a helping hand to Kinder's chances at the nomination. Smith, too, is seeking the nomination. He was in Cape Girardeau on Thursday and Friday, where to attend several community meetings and meet with committee members.

He views his proposal as "good policy."

"The people should always have the opportunity to say who is governing over them," he said. "These are important positions that people care a lot about. You can't change what you believe no matter if it hurts you in a situation you find yourself in."

Eddy Justice, chairman of the Republican 8th Congressional District Committee, said the uncertain situation surrounding the lieutenant governor's chances of receiving the nomination are lessened.

"I think the committee members are going to take everything into consideration," he said. "That will be one of the things -- specifically being, the direct effect on the Republican Party in the state of Missouri. How much weight they'll put on it -- that will be up to each individual member."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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