Smith: Governor dragging feet on special election

Sunday, July 14, 2013
U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, left, chats with state Sen. Wayne Wallingford during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday at the opening of Smith’s congressional office in Cape Girardeau. Although Smith has been in Washington since early June, his former 120th House District in Missouri remains vacant. (ERIN RAGAN)

There is only one empty seat in the Missouri legislature, and Republicans say they see a Democratic governor in no hurry to do anything about it as a as a veto session approaches.

A vacancy exists in the 120th House District, which includes Crawford and Phelps counties in southern Missouri, because its representative, Jason Smith, a Republican, was elected to Congress during a June 4 special election to replace Jo Ann Emerson.

Another special election, this time just in the 120th, will be needed to fill the seat, but so far no word on when that will happen has come from Gov. Jay Nixon's office. The governor sets the date of special elections.

Nixon's spokesman, Scott Holste, said by email Friday there is no reason the governor has not set a date for the election, but Nixon "takes a number of things into account when setting special elections, including the cost incurred to local election officials if there is only one matter on the ballot."

Special elections, when possible, often are set to coincide with a regularly scheduled election so money can be saved on materials, labor and other costs to local and state government. Such was the case during the last two special elections to fill House seats. Voters in the 76th and 157th districts went to the polls on April 2, which was when municipal elections took place.

Missouri's available election dates this year are Aug. 6 and Nov. 5, although in most counties and other municipal jurisdictions there is little expected on the ballot.

Smith, who was in Cape Girardeau on Friday for meetings with constituents and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at his local office, said he doesn't expect to see an election in his former district until after the Missouri legislature's veto session -- reason being if the seat goes unfilled for some time, Republicans possibly would have one less vote on their side in a veto override attempt. However, Republicans hold large majorities in both the House and Senate.

"My guess is that Nixon kind of pushes this off and doesn't declare a special election because the only open seat in the state is a Republican seat, and typically he sits on his hands unless there is a Democrat seat open. He doesn't like to fill those Republican holes," said Scott Dieckhaus, executive director for the House Republican Campaign Committee.

During the regular session, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones warned fellow Republican House members away from accepting gubernatorial appointments to board and commissions. If done, they could lessen the power of the GOP in the legislature.

A legislative committee, much like the committee that nominated Smith for the 8th Congressional District seat, will choose a candidate to run in the special election. Two or three people are interested, according to Dieckhaus, including Crawford County Clerk Mardy Leathers. Leathers announced he intended to run for the seat even before Smith was elected to Congress.

The total cost of the June 4 special election remains unknown, as some counties still are compiling final figures, said Abe Rakov, chief of staff for Secretary of State Jason Kander. About $950,000 was the price tag for the 30-county election, estimated by former Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office in December.

Cape Girardeau County, which has the largest number of registered voters and therefore likely the highest cost to hold an election, paid $52,390.25 for the election. The cost is reimbursed by the state. That amount covered election judge salaries and training, election night help, overtime for county employees, vehicle and fuel costs, absentee ballots, regular ballots, programming of election equipment and mailings, according to county election superviser Joey Keys.

eragan@semissourian.com

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