When we talk about our elected officials we assume they are exactly what the title implies – public servants who have been put in office by a vote of the people. While that is usually the case, in some states, including here in Missouri, the voice of the people is often silenced by the authority of our governor to fill abandoned executive offices through appointment, rather than special election.
Over the last several years, I have worked to address this issue, to give the power back to the people where it rightfully belongs. It's an issue we will again address in 2013. The problem is two-fold.
First, existing Missouri law is “unclear” as to what happens when the Lieutenant Governor leaves office. I say “unclear” – but this is what is written in Missouri Statute;
Whenever any vacancy . . . occurs or exists in any state or county office . . . other than in the offices of lieutenant governor . . . the vacancy shall be filled by appointment by the governor.
It seems clear from reading Missouri law that the position of Lieutenant Governor is specifically exempted from being appointed. While the law has clarity on this issue, awkward precedent has been set in Missouri muddying the waters. In fact, prior practice has been to allow the Governor to appoint a Lieutenant Governor to serve out the remainder of a term when that office has been abandoned.
As Bob Priddy pointed out several years ago, allowing Missouri’s Governor to appoint a Lieutenant Governor may be illegal, but no one challenged it when Roger Wilson appointed Joe Maxwell to be Lieutenant Governor in the year two thousand (after the death of Mel Carnahan). Also, when Thomas Eagleton resigned as Lieutenant Governor in 1969 William S. Morris was appointed by Governor Hearnes to serve out the remainder of Eagleton’s term, and it was never challenged.
Second, the other statewide elected offices are all replaced by appointments (i.e. if the State Treasurer were to resign, the governor would get to pick their replacement). If anything, Governor Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate seat when he abandoned that position illustrates the danger of having state-wide vacancies filled by gubernatorial appointment.
In each of the last four years I have filed a bill to fix this problem, ensuring that if there is a vacancy in any state-wide office; Missourians would get to pick the replacement at the next election. Two years ago it passed, but was vetoed by Governor Nixon. He decided that he should be able to pick our statewide officers, instead of the people of Missouri.
Speaker Tim Jones has asked that the House Republicans do everything in their power to pass my legislation. We want to make sure that Jay Nixon won’t get to pick who replaces any of our statewide officers who may resign their positions.
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I have always felt that the uncertainty in Missouri law about how to handle the resignation of a sitting Lieutenant Governor should be fixed, and that special elections were more representative of the will of the people of Missouri than appointments. If you’re interested in standing with us on this important issue, feel free to call my office at (573)-751-1688 or email me at Jason.Smith@house.mo.gov.